Welcome to the sixth Writer's Lounge. I am MrDupin and it is my pleasure to be interviewing WriterJosh, the immensely talented writer of bone-chilling stories such as Shut That Damned Door, a pasta spotlighted on the frontpage by the admins and The House That Death Forgot, a POTM winner. Without further ado, I give you the interview.
MrDupin: Do you have anything personal you want to share with the readers (name, occupation, interests/hobbies) before we properly start?
WriterJosh: My name is Josh Parker, and I'm a service desk analyst by day, recently unemployed and on the hunt again. I am married and I have three kids, the most recent of which is less than a year old. I'm in my late 30's and I enjoy reading and writing primarily (and watching TV!). I read a ton of fantasy, but oddly enough, not much horror.
MrDupin: When did you start writing? What was the first story you wrote?
WriterJosh: I've been writing since I was in second grade. When my teacher gave me my first ever creative writing assignment, I fell in love with it. Honestly, I don't remember the first story I wrote, but if you mean as an adult, I started trying to write novels before trying to write short stories. My first completed novel was a fantasy piece that was called A Dreamer Among Ruins. And it was shit. My first short horror story is available on my blogger site and is the first story published there. It's called They Are Watching Me. And Now They are Watching You, and it was inspired by an old, creepy building I once worked in.
MrDupin: What pushed you into writing horror stories? And what brought you to Creepypasta Wiki?
WriterJosh: I love the feeling of reading something that truly scares me, and it seemed that was happening less and less. Horror novelists tend to include a lot of horrific elements, and they pour on the gore, but they rarely succeed in actually frightening me. Same with a lot of horror movies. I tend to find atmosphere, mood and the unknown far more frightening than monsters or zombies, etc. What drew me to creepypastas was seeing an online mention of Slender Man. The idea of this unknown, creepy figure with unknown purpose was exactly what I find most frightening and I thought, I should take a crack at writing some of these.
MrDupin: You mentioned you have written a fantasy novel. What is your favourite genre to write/read besides horror? Have you written stories besides horror?
WriterJosh: Oh, fantasy, absolutely. If I'm in a book store, I'm usually at the fantasy racks. I love world-building; as in, take me to a world that isn't mine where the possibilities are endless. I tend to prefer novels that are more gritty, focus on characters and have a high amount of moral ambiguity. And of course, I appreciate it when they include horrific elements, though in a fantasy setting, those tend to be less horrific and more "cool!" because it's not happening in your world. I mainly write in the fantasy genre, and I have a few short stories that run more fantastic than horrific. The one I'm proudest of is actually a story about an elderly former superhero telling his life story in a bar. I have only written one novel in the horror genre, but one of the stories I have on the go is sort of psychological horror.
MrDupin: The main character in Misanthrope is a very complex and intriguing character. What inspires the characters in your stories? Do you see yourself in them?
WriterJosh: Thank you. Misanthrope is partially based on the fact that I am something of an introvert and prefer time to myself or with a few close friends far more than I do large crowds. I wondered how I would feel if I woke up and found myself utterly alone, and realized I would probably be afraid. But then I realized that the only thing worse would be discovering I wasn't alone after all, and had no idea what was after me. One of the creepiest ideas to me is the idea of slow, unrelenting footsteps in the dark.
That was just one example, though. I am often inspired by what I see around me. A few stories that I never put on the wiki are directly inspired by events that have happened to me or someone I knew. Shut That Damned Door was inspired by a couple of dreams. Really, there are only a few times that I don't see myself in the characters I create. Melinda from The House That Death Forgot is not based on anyone in particular, and neither is "Caffeinehead" from nuviews.org, even if I did use that online handle for a while. I also had to assure my son that I'm Worried About My Son had nothing to do with real life! Probably the character that is most like me is the narrator from My Grandfather Suffered from Dementia, which is one of the most autobiographical stories I have ever written. Other than the names, and the ending, it's pretty much exactly what's happening to my grandfather (who is 98 years old now, and still very much alive). It was a way of watching the loving, kind, friendly, wise man I knew growing up become less and less of anyone, even to the point of forgetting who I am, thinking my son is me, etc.
MrDupin: What is your process of writing? Do you brainstorm ideas and then write or do you just sit and write, letting the story guide your hand? To branch off of that, do you have a way to dealing with the dreaded writer's block?
WriterJosh: Writer's block is what is happening when months go by and you don't see a new story from me. It's happened a few times. When it happens I have to step away from the computer and just focus on life for a while. What tends to happen then is I get a flood of inspiration is that something will happen or I will hear about something happening, or I'll go to a place, etc. that gets me thinking. Inevitably I'll find a way to put a macabre twist on something mundane. That said, there have been times when the story guided my hand.
MrDupin: Are there any writers who influence your writing? Any that you look up to, on or off the site?
WriterJosh: I love the work of Slimebeast. I shudder to think what he could do to the world if he decided to publish a full length novel! I of course first heard of him because of Abandoned by Disney but honestly, I feel that much of his other work, such as the Oad stories and Extra Ketchup are far superior. If I can be said to be seeking to emulate anyone, it's probably him. Matt Dymerski, who wrote Psychosis, is very good as well. He got under my skin with that story. I'll never read it while alone. Brian Russell, the writer of NoEnd House, is great. I also like stories like Tulpa, but I don't know the author's name. Offsite, I'm far more of a fantasy reader/writer, and I'd say I definitely look up to men like Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie and Jim Butcher.
MrDupin: Have you written a story that you consider your favourite/least favourite?
WriterJosh: That's a tall order. I have a blog that I publish all my work on. If it didn't make it to the wiki, I didn't think it was all that strong. Probably the one that turned out the least like I wanted was Graffiti. I wanted to tie my stories together, but that wasn't the way to do it. I'm also not sure which I would call my favorite, but Shut That Damned Door probably came the closest to working out just like I wanted it to. Also My Grandfather Suffered from Dementia.
MrDupin: In most of your stories on the wiki, you write in the first person. Is there a reason for that? What is your favourite perspective to write in?
WriterJosh: A first person perspective within a creepypasta makes it easier for readers to imprint themselves on the protagonist, thus making it feel a bit more like an experience and less like just a story. I don't tend to write in first person outside of creepypastas, however, as I usually develop characters who have their own names, personalities, backgrounds, etc., but I still strive for a feeling of making these people as real as possible and, if at all possible, relatable.
MrDupin: Have you got a favourite subgenre within the horror genre? Eg. psychological, monsters, slasher etc.
WriterJosh: I'm not sure there's a "catch-all" term, but I love the idea of "that which man was not meant to know". That's sort of what I was going for with "Scarecrow" by R Scabree: Reviewed as I Read, Shut That Damned Door, nuviews.org, etc. I like slashers on film, but on paper I want something that goes a bit deeper. I remember reading this awful novel once where once, just once, the author hinted at a presence behind what was happening, and I was all "dude, tell us more about that!", but he never touched on that again.
Psychological horror is another favorite, but I find that many psychological horror stories are purely mundane. I like it when they can at least leave me wondering if there was something otherworldly going on, even if they don't explain what exactly it was. Heck, maybe I even like it MORE when they don't explain it, since sometimes explanations tend to suck the scary out of a situation.
MrDupin: You have mentioned before that you are/were writing a novel? First of all, how is that going? Second, do you prefer writing novels or shorter stories? And lastly, which are, in your opinion, the most important differences between writing a novel and writing a short story?
WriterJosh: I'm not writing a novel. I'm writing twenty novels. Heh heh. I feel like I've always got something on the go, but I have a problem with finishing. I will start to think it's complete crap and be tempted to scrap the whole thing. Presently I am working on an attempt at epic, "grimdark" fantasy focusing on a "Macbeth-esque" character. I have finished three novels in my life (counting the one I thought was utter crap), one fantasy and one horror. The horror novel is presently being edited by a professional editor, whose advice has been invaluable and I'm really excited to keep working on that one. I'd love to say look for it on book store shelves soon but one step at a time. The fantasy novel apparently excited the editorial staff at Angry Robot Books but the decision-makers said it didn't match their release pattern. To be honest, I think that one could be re-worked.
All told, writing short stories is far less time consuming, naturally, but I still think novel-writing is my first love. I can be more detailed, give more character focus, etc. I feel that in short story writing, the event is the focus while the character is secondary. This isn't true of all short stories, but within the world of creepypasta it sure is. I would say the primary difference between short stories and novels is that a short story is more about a brief but lasting impact, while a novel is more of an immersion experience. The difference between someone dumping a bucket of water on your head vs. a nice, long bath.
MrDupin: In your story Shut That Damned Door you turned an activity that everyone does everyday (shutting doors) into something malevolent. I believe that twisting something familiar to the reader is a very effective way to inspire horror. What's your opinion on that? And on that matter, which do you believe to be the best way to terrify the reader, if there is one?
WriterJosh: That really is the most effective way to terrify someone. I used to wonder why, as a kid, movies like Star Wars excited me but never scared me, despite the "monsters" (aliens) that were all through it. Why didn't the Wampa, Jabba the Hutt, the Rancor, the Sarlac, etc., make me afraid to look at the screen? And the answer is that, even as a kid, I wasn't relating to the characters. I wasn't in that universe, and never would be. While it was cool to watch, it wasn't my life. Later, after catching just part of a horror movie on TV (don't ask me which one; it's been decades) I couldn't go to sleep.
The more a reader can picture this happening to them, and especially if they're in a location or performing a task that is everyday or mundane, the more unsettled they'll be when the horrific element is introduced. Really, what I think is the best way to get under a reader's skin is to write a story that's more about atmosphere, mood and implication.
Let's use Shut That Damned Door as an example. Why is that hallway or tunnel there? How long has it been there? What's in the room at the end? What will they do if our protagonist tries to cross the room to shut the final door? And, most of all, what's behind that other door? I have had some people reply that they didn't find that story scary. That's fair; not everything scares the same people, but really, I think that if they allowed themselves time later to think about those questions, maybe a shudder would go down their spine.
MrDupin: It has become a tradition for such interviews to end with a little advice for aspiring writers. Have you got any words of wisdom you want to share with us?
WriterJosh: Well, to be honest, I think I'm one of the last people writers should take advice from, since I don't often follow the advice I would give, but for those who might be reading who have aspirations to write professionally, I will simply say this: don't give up. Don't listen to people who act like it's just a hobby, who tell you it's a waste of time, or that so many good writers never get published. Don't focus on the obstacles you'll face, just keep pressing on. Maybe you'll feel like you're biting off more than you can chew, but wouldn't you rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity? Listen to those who have constructive criticism to offer and trust me, you'll know it when you hear it, because it will make you angry, until you think about what was said. But more than anything, persevere!
MrDupin: And that concludes the interview. Thanks for your time Josh, it has been an amazing experience for me. I hope you all enjoyed it, have a good one.