Writer Interview: Erinn L. Kemper

posted in: How To, Writer's Craft | 3

ErinnKempner1Horror writer Erinn L. Kemper grew up in an isolated mill town on coastal British Columbia, Canada. From there she moved to Victoria, BC, to study philosophy at university. Over the years she’s worked as an eye glasses repair person, fish farmer, cabinet maker, parks department laborer, small museum staff, book store clerk, home nurse, teacher, home renovator—and has lived in a camper, a van, in Japan, and on a forty-foot wooden sailboat. She now lives in a small town in Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea where she operates a small vacation rental, runs with her dog on the beach, watches the howler monkeys at happy hour, and plans to write her second novel from her hammock.

Erinn has sold stories to Cemetery Dance Magazine, Black Static, Dark Discoveries,  and [Nameless] Digest and appears in various anthologies including You, Human, The Library of the Dead, A Darke Phantastique, Chiral Mad 2, and Zombies: Shambling through the Ages. Visit her website at erinnkemper.com for updates and sloth sightings.

Q:    You identify yourself as a horror writer. Why horror? What attracted you to the genre?

A: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve always read speculative fiction. Horror, fantasy, sci-fi, I can’t get enough of it. The first true horror book I read was Carrie. Snuck it from my mom when I was 11 years old. Read it in one night while my parents were out, having left my sister and me alone for the first time. It scared the hell out of me, and I loved it.

As a writer, first I wrote a lot of poetry (oh man, so much poetry!), then a few short stories. They were all kind of creepy and strange. My ultimate goal, however, was to write novels. I love losing myself in a fiction that transports the reader, and I wanted to do that…write something that takes you somewhere new and rips you apart.

Q: You have only been writing and publishing professionally for a few years – how did you get started, and how has your writing process changed since then?

A: A few years back, I was about 100 pages into my third attempt at writing a novel. This third attempt was inspired by Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl, which he said he wrote because he missed Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had a Buffy void that needed filling, so I started an urban dark fantasy thing, but it lacked focus and cohesion. I decided to heed a lot of advice I was reading online, to get some short publications under my belt. My first two shorts will probably always stay in the trunk, but my second two sold, to [Nameless] Digest and Cemetery Dance Magazine.

My method has stayed pretty much the same. I come up with an idea, a character, a theme, a setting, and a what-if scenario. Then I start a list of scenes that I want. Sometimes I note what needs to happen in each scene, sometimes not. I make lists of details I need to research. I write little motivational notes to myself reminding myself of goals I have to stretch and push my writing. They are not very elaborate. Things like “Make ‘em cry”—which that story did! I received two fan letters in which men said they wept at the end of the story.

I find it tough to go very far in a story until I have the final scene in my head…so if I don’t have that I write a bit of the beginning, then I move on to another story until the ending comes. Once I have the ending, I have to slow myself down…I have a tendency to race to get there, and then I have to edit all the rush-y feeling out of the final draft.

Q:  What piece (or pieces) of advice have most helped you develop as a writer?

A: I’ve gotten a few great pieces of advice: Don’t flinch, think about what you want the reader to feel at the end of your story, and write the ending that makes them feel that, always sub to professional markets and start with the top…don’t be afraid to shoot for the best. It can be a frustrating and lengthy process, waiting out the pro markets, but then I know that I’m putting my best foot forward. To be honest, I still get a thrill (and feel rather cheeky and like a bit of an imposter) sending a submission to some of the pro markets. Depending on the story, I start with The New Yorker and Tin House. Then The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Nightmare/Lightspeed, TOR, then Black Static, Cemetery Dance, Dark Discoveries, Apex, Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, etc.

There are some great new magazines, too. Limnal and Gamut are on my radar. And I follow what’s happening with anthologies, too. I love Ellen Datlow, Michael Bailey, and Stephen Jones in particular.

Q: The horror genre is broader than most people think—everything from the Twilight series to Stephen King’s novels to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” have been labeled “horror.” What direction do you see the genre moving in over the next few years?

A: I agree it’s a broad genre, and getting broader. There are more and more mashups or slipstream kinds of efforts popping up. Horror is creeping into everything from Game of Thrones to romance novels to properly “literary” works. From talking to agents and editors recently, it’s clear to me that horror is hot. Supernatural thrillers are a big one. But I’m more intrigued by what’s happening with literary horror. This is the genre/style I tend to write the most  (check out Nathan Ballingrud, Dale Bailey, Hellen Marshall, Stephen Graham Jones—After the People Lights Have Gone Off  is an amazing collection, Karen Russell, Kelly Link—the queen of all that is wondrous, John Langan, Gary Braunbeck, Peter Straub, and of course, Joyce Carol Oates.

There’s one thing in short stories that’s super hard to sell. Commercial. Great for novels, super limiting for shorts.

Q: What are you working on now that you’re really excited about? 

A: I’m excited about it all. Shopping my first novel around to agents. I’ve been invited to four upcoming anthologies by amazing editors…some of my all-time favorites in the biz. I’m looking at doing a collaboration with one of them, but I have yet to find the right dancing partner for that. I’ve also just finished outlining my second novel…an idea I brainstormed with David Morrell at StokerCon. He said I have to write it, and he’s right. I have to!

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Follow Felicia Lee:

Lee is the author of the Days of the Dead series. She also writes non-fiction essays (some of which have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Salon.com and promotional copy for businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies. She earned two degrees in English from Stanford and has a doctorate in linguistics from UCLA. After ten years as a university professor and researcher she returned to her roots as a writer and has never looked back.

3 Responses

  1. Connie Morrison
    | Reply

    This lady has an interesting background. Her life now…well, um, wonderful, that’s for me! It must be super difficult to write horror in such surroundings.

  2. Felicia Lee
    | Reply

    Connie — yes, she’s a neat person, and a very disciplined writer. She has a lot of useful writing tips, not to mention an enviable back yard!

  3. Joan H Carter
    | Reply

    Errin has a marvelous background for a writer–all those different jobs! And different lifestyles! Good write-up. But I don’t understand how “commercial” is hard to sell.

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