Author Interview: Jason Kilgore
After reading Jason Kilgore’s horror anthology, Around the Corner from Sanity – and subsequently losing a couple of nights sleep from it – I got to interview the “protégé” of masters like Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. During this interview, I got to learn where those stories came from, what the future holds for Mr. Kilgore, and his side gig during the holidays. It’s really interesting and beautiful. I’m definitely going to buy one come this holiday season.
He also gives some great advice for fellow writers that I agree with 110%. Whether you are new to writing, working on your first novel, or have been published in the past, what he says throughout this interview pertains to every single one of you. There is always something new to learn to perfect your craft. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or Mr. Kilgore. His contact info. is at the bottom of the post.
Learning More About Around the Corner from Sanity
Where Did the Stories Come From?
Lisa Hodorovych: How did these different stories in Around the Corner from Sanity: Tales of the Paranormal come to you? Were they dreams? Were they random thoughts? Or were they something you saw in real life?
Jason Kilgore: When it comes to short fiction, like the tales in Around the Corner from Sanity, on rare occasions I just start writing and the story forms its own plot. Usually these are writing exercises that just lead to something entertaining. The story "Thicker Than Water" was one, where it started with a description of a gothic mansion and led to a paranormal experience (with a twist!). But most start with my demented mind turning an everyday experience into something paranormal.
For instance, the idea for "Catherine's Locket" happened when I read a National Geographic article on Catherine the Great while on a domestic flight, and the article talked about her lover, Sergei Saltykov. Sometimes the story ideas come from asking myself a "what would happen if" question. For instance, my day job is at an international biotech company, and for the story "Corporate Spirit" I asked myself what would happen if a corporate office, like mine, were haunted by a spirit that fed on people's disgust at "corporate-speak"? And for the humorous "The Last Gift of Christmas", I asked, what would happen if an everyday family got hold of a soul trapped in a jar that could answer any question?
Why Short Stories?
Lisa: Why did you decide to do an anthology of short stories instead of drawing some of them out into novellas or even novels? I feel like there were a couple that have more of a story to tell, like “The Secret of Jeremiah James”.
Jason: I wrote many of these stories during a period between my first two fantasy novels. I felt I had to improve my writing craft, so I took several terms of a creative writing course at my local community college, joined a writer's group, and wrote short stories. I HIGHLY recommend beginning writers do this. Writing short fiction requires that you be efficient. Every word has to do work for the story. The shorter the piece, the more efficient it must be because you have less word count to build a plot, develop your characters, and create an atmosphere (and atmosphere is everything in horror).
Readers don't usually recognize this for what it is; they just see it as an entertaining story. And that's a good thing. The craft of writing has to happen behind the scenes, if you will. And if you've done a bang-up job, it leaves the reader satisfied with the story but also wanting more. In "The Secret of Jeremiah James" the despicable main character has a terrible, dark secret that has gnawed at him for much of his life, leading to him being the way he is. When the story is done, you suspect there is more Jeremiah is hiding about his life, even as his dark secret comes back to (literally) haunt him. That aspect of him sticks with the reader and makes them ponder the story after the last word is read.
Lisa: Most of your stories take place down south in states like Mississippi or Arkansas. How come?
Jason: I grew up in Arkansas and spent part of every summer with family in northern Louisiana. Thus, the landscape, culture, and people of the South are familiar to me. Southern culture is under-represented in literature, I feel. One story, "Rabbit Cry" is set in Arkansas and takes place in a home and property based on the property my family lived on, complete with redneck neighbors (though, thankfully, my neighbors weren't horrific like the ones in the story!).
What's more, the house and property, and even the woods around it, were actually haunted in real life. I've got a lot of spooky stories I could tell, like my stepbrother's bedsheets pulled off of him one night, or the shadow people who darted around the property, or the poltergeist that took a hanging plant off of its ceiling hook and moved it six feet down a hallway onto the floor without spilling any dirt. Someday, perhaps, I'll publish these true stories.
Lisa: The names you came up with in some of your stories were really creative. Like Norman Wimperlick, Moab Tate, “Manager Mike” Blackwell, and the different names for the gods in “Anger Not the Gods of Rake and Mower”. Where did these names come from?
Jason: Thanks! Choosing a name in fiction writing is important. The name should evoke a feeling in the reader. It has to do work, not just be a tag for someone. In the comedy story "Purgatory's Price", a man dies and discovers he has to play a game show to get into Heaven, so I chose a name for him I thought would be a little sad (whimper) but a little silly ("Norman" is sort of silly to me, and who licks a whimper?).
Regarding Moab Tate, the murderous teen in the horror story "Rabbit Cry", the name "Moab" is from biblical times and has a word origin of "from the father". This fits the character because he comes from an extreme fundamentalist family and has a father who is violent and aggressive, lending that behavior to the son.
"Manager Mike", a character in the comedy "Corporate Spirit", is my inside way of poking at the gender gap in upper management at many corporations.
And the obscure gods in the comedy “Anger Not the Gods of Rake and Mower” are named after what they represent. For instance, Lolium, God of Lawns, is named after the scientific name for ryegrass, Lolium perenne, commonly used in lawns, and Taraxacum, God of Weeds, is named after the scientific genus for dandelions.
Lisa: I noticed pretty much all of your stories are written in third-person perspective. Is that the perspective you prefer, or did you feel that would work best for these stories instead of first-person?
Jason: My first fantasy novel, which is still unpublished, was written entirely in first-person. And though that can help bind a reader firmly into one point of view, especially if the story involves a lot of introspection, I find third-person seems more natural for most readers to relate to. It's how all the great myths and most of the storyteller sort of stories are told. It's also much easier to write a book with multiple point of view characters if it is third-person. It is important to note that there are many fine examples of great books and short stories written in first-person, and perhaps I'll return to it in future works.
Research for Around the Corner from Sanity
Lisa: In your one story – “The Way to Hell” – you list of couple of different Satanist/occult books. Are those all real books?
Jason: In "The Way to Hell", where a serial killer performs Satanic rituals and then gets himself killed in the hope to go to Hell and serve Satan, I mention three books of spells, The Grand Grimoire, the Key of Solomon, and the Grimorium Verum. These are all real books of magic written between the 15th-17th centuries and detail how to perform spells to call forth demons and do other black magic. I have a copy of the Key of Solomon. Frankly, it's fascinating to read the arcane rituals and see the diagrams and symbology. Can they actually summon demons? Let's not find out! I'd hate to wind up like the main character in that story.
Lisa: In another story – “The Children of Magnolia House” – your main character, Maggy, is at one point listening to Luciano Pavarotti’s version of D’Anzi’s aria, Malinconia D’Amore. How come? Out of all the music she could be listening to, from classical to opera to something more modern like The Who or Metallica, why did you have Maggy listening to that?
Jason: As mentioned earlier, all words in short fiction must do work. That song is hauntingly beautiful and sung by Pavarotti with such passion, but it's more than that. The lines that I used translate to "The melancholy of love. / I loved her so, / with a love sincere and pure. … I loved her like a rare flower, / but the vows she spoke were untrue." It echoes the thoughts of Maggy, where her relationship with her husband, whom she loves, is being strained by his work and by the dawning realization that the beautiful Southern mansion they just moved into is haunted by the ghosts of children, a realization that he refuses to accept.
In fact, as she's listening to that song, she has her first irrefutable encounter with one of those ghosts. Why use an aria for this? It reflects the character better, as she is artistic (a painter), a bit romantic, and seems at odds with the Southern lifestyle (having just moved to rural Mississippi from Seattle).
Lisa: Speaking of, I loved how you had the lyrics from that aria followed by its translation. Do you know Italian, or did you ask somebody to translate for you? Or did you look it up?
Jason: No, I don't speak Italian, unfortunately; I looked up the translation. In the story is written, "She had first learned the aria in Italian class at Rhodes, but the song had lost its charm," so it has a lot of meaning to her and reflects her academic background. The reader is left to ponder why it lost its charm to her.
Lisa: With these different books, music, and lyrics being mentioned in your stories, was there any other research that you did for them?
Jason: I guess I drew from my own experiences that way. I pride myself on being diverse in my tastes. It helps me to be equally diverse in the way I write and the characters I write about. Usually there's a seed in my mind that winds up being imparted to the story, like a song title. After I write it, I will consider if it seems appropriate to do the most work for the story and replace if necessary, sometimes doing a bit of research and considering alternatives.
Lisa: In your “Acknowledgements”, you give thanks to your writer’s group, The Village Peeps of Corvallis in Oregon. How did you find this group? Do you recommend writer groups to fellow writers?
Jason: My writer's group is fantastic, and I HIGHLY recommend every writer to have one, particularly those who are just starting out. Currently, the Village Peeps has eight members, including myself, though members have changed over the years. A couple of us write speculative fiction, one writes absurdist fiction, one writes historical fiction and essay, one writes cozy mysteries and essays, a couple write biography, and one is more literary arts. We've all published. The diverse writing styles lend a critique that helps my writing appeal to a broader audience, I feel.
The group started just before I joined in 1997 with members who had attended the same creative writing course and instructor that I had, using the same critique rules that the class had used, and it works great for us. We initially met at a retirement center called Good Samaritan Village, so we called ourselves the "Village Peeps". We no longer meet there, so sometimes we just shorten to the "Peeps".
Side Notes from Lisa and Jason
Side note from Jason: If anyone wants to learn more about my group and the rules we follow – in case you maybe want to start your own group – I blogged about it HERE.
Side note from Lisa: Being a part of a writing group has been one of the most helpful and most rewarding things I have done in my life. I am with Starlight Creek Writer’s Workshop in Gladstone, NJ. They have truly helped me as I prepare to publish my first novel. It has grown and sounds better because of their feedback. I agree with Mr. Kilgore and highly recommend all writers to join a writer’s group, if possible.
Learning More About Jason Kilgore
Passion for Writing
Lisa: When did you first realize your love and passion for writing and that you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Jason: I wrote a number of short pieces in my youth and undergrad years, as well as published a bit of poetry, and I was creative in other ways, but it wasn't until I was age 21 that I had my big "fiction" moment. I had been gifted a hardbound volume of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for Christmas, from my mom. I was reading it when I had a sudden epiphany. Something about the narrative struck a chord. I immediately dropped the book (literally!) and went to my old Mac Classic computer and started typing what became my first fantasy novel.
I continued my academic pursuit of science as I started my budding fiction writing hobby and continued while I got my degrees and started my career in biotech. I've also published scholarly papers for my science career. My fiction writing went from "hobby" to "side career" a couple years ago, and now I make a small amount of money from it. Someday I hope to write fiction full-time, probably after my kids graduate.
Lisa: Why write horror, sci-fi, and paranormal stories? Why not romance or mystery? Will you write those type of stories?
Jason: Stephen King once wrote, "A story should entertain the writer, too." I agree. I read the genres I write. Some writers focus only on one genre. Not me. I like to escape the real world, so the more "speculative" the fiction the better, and diversity is best. Both romance and mystery are a little outside my interest and take slightly different "rules" when it comes to plotting, which I am not as used to. Will I one day write and read in those genres? I won't say "never".
Lisa: Who inspired you when it comes to writing? Who inspired you when it comes to life?
Jason: I come from a family of writers. My maternal grandmother was poet laureate of Arkansas, served a lot of different national and state society roles, and published many books of poetry despite suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis that made it painful to type or write, as well as a series of strokes that required her to re-learn how to read and write, an incredible task, and went on to publish two more books. She passed away years ago, but her perseverance still serves as inspiration to keep writing despite whatever life throws my way. My mother wrote a book on the prophesies of Nostradamus, and my father a book of philosophy. I blogged on them HERE. My mother has always encouraged my creativity and is my number one fan, and she has a positivity toward life that I aspire to.
Lisa: What is your writing process? Do you do an outline? Do you write everything out first before typing it up or do you go straight for your laptop?
Jason: I used to be a "pantser" (writing from the seat of my pants) without much preparation. I'm still sort of that way with short stories, though I formulate the basic premise and plot in my head beforehand, and maybe jot down some notes. I think Stephen King is that way with his books, so it works for people. But I have learned that, particularly for novel length, my work is far better if I start with an outline and notes. I start with a "pitch" where I state the premise of the novel in just a few sentences. It captures the main plot arc and a character or two. Doing this really serves as a guidepost for all the rest.
Then I make a rough outline and refine as I go, keeping track of the current word length and estimated total. I don't stick to it religiously, but I update it after every chapter to make sure I have an idea of where I'm going and how it's all going to shape up. Like any journey, if you don't have a map for where you're going, you'll get lost along the way and it'll take a lot longer to get there.
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
Lisa: In this world of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, there are a lot of people who are on the fence, unsure of which way to go. What advice would you give them?
Jason: Both routes have pros and cons. Around the Corner from Sanity was self-published. I knew that anthologies like this are a hard sell to agents and publishers unless you are already a best-seller, so I didn't even try, and I needed to build my bibliography. Self-publishing gives you all the control and a far higher royalty payment; I get 60% of the retail cost, minus the printing cost, by selling the paperback at Amazon, and 70% of the retail cost of Kindle, whereas with traditional publishers you are only going to see maybe 10%, after you recoup any advance they give you, plus an agent takes about 15%.
With self-publishing you retain nearly all the rights and all the control, while traditional publishing houses will typically want control of most rights and things like the cover image and may even restrict the content. The process is far longer, too, requiring sometimes a couple years to go through all the editing, contracts, marketing prep, and actual publishing. Self-publishing is almost immediate, though you have to do all the formatting, editing, and cover art yourself, or hire someone.
The biggest benefit of traditional publishing is distribution. Publishing houses have routes of distribution to get your book into all the big distributors, bookstores, and online book sellers, and thus a much higher readership. They also help with marketing your book, though more and more this is falling on the authors these days. I am currently querying agents for a fantasy novel in the hopes of a traditional publisher, so we'll see. It's not unusual for career writers to have books published both ways. And let's not forget small publishing houses which are in-between these options.
Advice from Jason Kilgore
Lisa: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Jason: First, take a creative writing course. I can't overstate the need for basic grammar, a writer's tool chest of methods, and coherent plot structure. I get so annoyed when people self-publish stories that have bad grammar, two-dimensional characters, clichés, and confusing plots. Such a course at a local community college is typically inexpensive, easy to get into, and taught at times that fit busy lifestyles (such as evening classes).
Next, get yourself a writing critique group, or at least some beta readers, who will give you unabashed and neutral criticism (not close friends or family!), including writers who have already published in your genre. Be open to that criticism and be willing to re-write based on it. From there, write as often as possible (some people say "every day", but that's not always possible for those who have jobs/kids/chaos) and it will fall into place for you. Keep everything, no matter how bad or half-finished. Eventually you'll find your "voice" and excel. Oh, and back up everything – often! I offer more "words of wisdom" in a blog post, HERE.
Lisa: What is next for Jason Kilgore?
Jason: I'm querying a fantasy novel, and I have two novels in progress. I'm almost finished with a "naughty" space opera sci-fi, which I'll publish under a pseudonym, and I'm about 70% finished with the sequel to the epic fantasy novel. That space opera is fun to write, and it will be fun to read. It will likely be self-published and will have a Kickstarter project to fund the cover image and editing, so watch for notices on my social media and help me out!
Lisa: May I have at least one interesting fact about you that no one knows? (For example: You’re a comic book enthusiast, you have a plethora of tattoos you’re hiding…something that would make people say, “What?!” Haha!)
Jason: As a side-gig to earn a little money to buy my family presents for the Holidays, I make and sell Christmas ornaments I call "SparkleBulbs", which are glass bulbs that have colorful LED lights in them that flash with different patterns, have timers, and are battery-operated. I just sell them at seasonal Christmas and craft bazaars leading up to the Holidays. They sell out, so I may expand to Etsy someday.
Thank you again, Mr. Kilgore for taking the time to talk with me and answer my questions! It was an absolute honor and it is truly appreciated!
Remember, I did not get paid to write the review on Around the Corner from Sanity: Tales of the Paranormal nor am I getting paid to interview Mr. Kilgore. I'm just a fellow writer and fan showcasing the work of a great author. If you have any questions or would like to be featured on my blog, please don't hesitate to contact me.
The photos featured in this post were given to me by Jason Kilgore for that very purpose.
**This post was originally published on April 2, 2020**