Highlights

  • Where do we find inspiration for our horror stories?
  • It’s never too late to start writing.
  • As writers, we need to know when to listen, but also when to trust ourselves.

Everyone loves a good scare.

Welcome to the first episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft. I’m fascinated with writing as a physical effort and the perspectives of other writers on the process itself.

In this first episode, I’ve asked horror writer S. P. Carter – whose debut horror novel, “Unraveling” is set to release later this year – about his writing process and where he finds his inspiration in the horror genre.

A. Macabe: Tell us more about “Unraveling”

S. P. Carter: When people commit mass shootings and other atrocities, they don’t snap; they spiral. “Unraveling” explores this transition in a man living an outwardly banal, middle-class family life who struggles against these demons. Hallucinations and paranoid delusions give you a front row seat into a mind fighting to hold itself together, and the destruction left in its wake.

A. Macabe: Where did you get the idea for this story?

S. P. Carter: As a survivor of childhood trauma, I’ve grappled with people’s motivations to harm each other, and often wondered if one day, a switch would flip in my head. By exploring what I would do in a fictional world, free of legal repercussion, I had an outlet. This led to the initial concept at the age of 13. I didn’t shape it into a novel until age 22, where it promptly sat on a shelf until I dusted it off at age 36. I have since written two complete revisions and the project has evolved beyond anything I ever imagined. So it’s never too late.

It’s never too late.

A. Macabe: I enjoyed your short story, “I’m Awake.” What inspired this story?

S. P. Carter: Fortunately, I’ve never awoken in a physically vegetative body. The idea came one night when I was wired up to a sleep monitor for insomnia. But we’ve all experienced feeling trapped and powerless in one form or another.

A. Macabe: What attracts you to the horror genre?

S. P. Carter: The world is a scary place. Reading and writing horror helps us process the emotions that come from our worst experiences. I personally enjoy psychological horror that explores deviant minds. Plus, writing violence is cathartic, and everyone loves a good scare.

A. Macabe: What horror cliches do you try to avoid?

S. P. Carter: Good vs. Evil. is the greatest cliche in all of fiction. Humans are complex creatures full of rationalization and contradiction, and every villain is the hero of their own story. I prefer moral ambiguity that challenges the values of the reader.

Every villain is the hero of their own story.

A. Macabe: Tell us about your writing process.

S. P. Carter: Pen on paper is the best way to let ideas flow free of distraction. I try to write a little before bed each night, then type it up the next morning where I can flesh it out. This helps me avoid blank screen syndrome. I also outline, write goals of a scene, or write the motivations of side characters. These often lead me back to narration.

There are many techniques such as daily word counts, keeping a writing schedule, participating in National Writing Month. These work well for a lot of writers, but my life with work and two small kids is not conducive to any sort of schedule. I just write whenever I have time, normally late at night.

A. Macabe: I’ve heard this a lot from writers: “I write at night.” Does this mean you’re writing after the kids are in bed until midnight? Does the lack of sleep get to you, or even put a new spin on the story?

S. P. Carter: On most nights, I sit at the keyboard from about 9-10, then relax until bed, then I write a few lines on paper if I have an idea. If I’m in the zone, I’ll stay up late and accept the next day as a mental vacation.

A. Macabe: How do you overcome writer’s block and stay motivated?

S. P. Carter: My writing comes in monsoons and droughts. I catch the rain when it pours, and read when it doesn’t. Block often comes from insecurity of being no good. No one wants to bare their soul and get heckled for it. Becoming overburdened with writing “rules”, critic opinions, and commercial goals can all gum the gears. I just remind myself that I’m writing for the joy of it. I also think dogmas such as “You must read and write EVERY day” only set writer’s up to feel like failures when they inevitably miss a day. Goals are fine, but you have to give yourself room to breathe.

I sometimes get stuck on a plot point when my characters want to avoid the horrible situations I place them in, and I can’t justify the direction I’m going without forcing it. I always have one or two side projects to switch over to (not too many), and I also critique swap with other writers. It’s often easier to fix other people’s problems than your own, in writing and in life.

You have to know when to listen and when to trust yourself.

A. Macabe: Are you part of a writing group? How did you meet others to share your work with?

S. P. Carter: I’m a member of the Western Maryland Writers Group, which I found on meetup.com, as well as a few online groups on scribophile.com. I also exchange with a few writers that I know. Getting opinions and advice is vital for authors, but you have to know when to listen and when to trust yourself.

A. Macabe: Thanks again for sharing your writing wisdom with us. We’ll be checking in later this year and talking more about “Unraveling.”

Check out S. P. Carter’s short stories and follow his journey to publishing “Unraveling” at spcarter.com.

Next week in Episode #2, we chat with writer Avrin Kelly and learn more about her #52weeks52stories journey.

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