Women in Horror Spotlight: J.C. O’Brien

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In my neverending quest for good content on The Belle, I’ve decided to feature some amazing new female writers.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, February is Women in Horror Month.  That might not seem so special until you consider that the horror genre is still largely a man’s world.  In fact, some loathsome internet troll published a rant last week calling female horror writers “hags.”  I don’t think it was intended as a compliment.  As for me, I’ve always seen these types of things as a bit of a double-edged sword.  In the future, I hope to be a “person” who writes horror, not a “woman” who writes horror.  But until then, raising awareness is never a bad idea.  So in that spirit, I’m spotlighting some amazing female horror writers whose work is currently up for grabs in the new State of Horror Series from Charon Coin Press.  Today’s victim:  SoH: Tennessee contributor, J.C. O’Brien!

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What influences your stories?

When I switched to genre fiction, I thought I was leaving the PC crap to write exciting stories. Ironically, shifting my focus to blood and action freed me to create situations that explore how woman are in the world, not how we’d like them to be and what happens when we face the real fears and struggles that come with being born into a particular body.

I want to create a visceral experience for the reader so they feel what my characters are feeling. That means I’ll grab anything — bits of overheard conversation, a smell that only comes out at night, the possibility of loss as my son goes into surgery — and mix it into a story.

Back in the ’80s there was a push to “clean up fairy tales” by stripping out their darker elements (but not the way women were treated). Kids ended up having nightmares. We need the darker side to find our way to balance and stories are a very safe place to explore things we might never do. On the other hand, if someone wants to take me to a bomb range and let me blow stuff up, I’m in.

How do you balance writing and the realities of life?

By getting very no-bullshit about my priorities.  If I don’t write, I’m weird. If I write after a long day of other work, my writing sucks. So I take care of my writing after taking care of the dog.  When I worked a day gig, I wrote on my lunch hour with ear buds in my ears. I wrote a novel in a year that way — lunch hours plus some weekends editing. Train yourself to write when you touch your keyboard. Save Facebook (or other social) for your phone. Once your writing is protected you need to train yourself to turn off and be present for your loved ones and your body. Writing challenges us mentally and physically. Finding exercise that takes me to another place works for me. I’ve belly danced for 18 years. Taking time to move my body to different rhythms has taught me a lot about pacing and structure. In other words however your need to spend your time, you can use it to inform your writing. You can also use your writing as an excuse to interview people, visit dive bars and discuss impolite topics.

Paying attention to loved ones is easier now that my son is a teenager. When he was a toddler, I could blast Middle Eastern music, but a putting a pen to paper or my fingers on a keyboard drove him wild. He’s much happier now that he can bounce story ideas with me. In fact, he’s the one who came up with the title to my story for “State of Horror: Tennessee.”

My husband’s a jazz musician. He gets the need to tend to your art, but the family schedule can be a nightmare since we share a single car. I’d love to tell you there’s a great solution for that one, but I haven’t found it yet.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing or what was the hardest part about writing your story?

Since I like writing violent scenes, I was surprised to find my first draft of “From Love to Dust” was too sweet. I rewrote large sections of it until it creeped my husband out. Then I sent it off.

There’s a fine line between caring enough about a project to take it through the necessary edits and loving it so much that it hides in your computer without ever meeting a reader.

I have two projects waiting for me to get over myself and approach them with the respect, care and expectation I use when editing anyone else’s work. I can be alternately easier and harder on myself than necessary.

A great deal can be learned by reading other people’s work and trying their approach yourself until you get a story you like, but the real game is trusting yourself. You have to believe you can write a story and then you have to believe you can finish it and that strangers will like it and so on. Or you have to find a story that you want to tell so much that the rest of that stuff doesn’t matter and I think that’s the clearer way. That doesn’t mean that the writing and editing will be easier, it just means that you’ll have a guide telling you what to leave in and what to leave out. I still believe the best advice is to write the story you want to read.

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