Today I am excited to share my interview with Sheldon Woodbury author of The World on Fire. I recently reviewed his book and really enjoyed the crazy journey destruction. Sheldon Woodbury is an award winning writer (books, short stories, screenplays, and plays) who writes mostly in the dark fantasy and horror field. His book, Cool Million, is considered the go to guide on writing high concept movies. His horror short stories have been featured on Popcorn Fiction (Mulholland Books), Horror Novel Reviews, Hellnotes, Gothic City Press, and published in the anthologies, Cultists, Charlatans & Clerics (Gothic City Press), One Hellacious Halloween (Horror Novel Reviews), Bones 2 and Demonic Possession (James Ward Kirk Publishing), Shots of Terror (Angelic Knight Press), and many other collections. His novel, The World on Fire, was published by James Ward Kirk Publishing. During the day he teaches screenwriting at New York University. At night, after the kids are in bed, he writes scary stories for adults.
The Scary Reviews: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from?
Sheldon Woodbury: My parents were originally from the South, but we moved to a small town in New Jersey when I was ten. I started out in advertising after college, then went back to get an MFA in writing from NYU, where I now teach screenwriting. I live in New York with my amazing wife and 13 year old son, just a few blocks away from the horrible tragedy of 9/11.
TSR: What propelled you to start writing and did you always want to be a writer?
SW: All writers start as readers and that’s the way it was with me. My entry drug was probably a Marvel comic book. I think with horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers there’s something in your imagination that’s unleashed when you’re introduced to stories that are so far away from your everyday life it’s like a thrill-ride inside your brain. I was hooked on comic books, then science fiction, mythology, fantasy, horror, and the same kind of TV shows and movies. Who wants normal when you can dream about the impossible. And yes, way back then being a writer seemed to be just about the coolest thing you could be.
TSR: Can you tell me about your writing process? Do you plan the story with an outline or let the story take you where it goes?
SW: I teach screenwriting during the day, and my son is obsessed with sports, so my writing time is wedged into that. I have a room I write in, with my collection of books close by.
For my novel, The World on Fire, I did an outline because the story has a puzzle structure, so I couldn’t just wing it. I wanted it to be a thriller with lots of surprises and twists, and the pieces had to fit together to get to the ending I wanted. You always come up with new ideas along the way, but I had a very strong vision of what I wanted the book to be.
With short stories I try to begin with an idea I think is unique and new, then start with a first sentence that’s establishes a strong tone and style. Because I write mostly horror and dark fantasy, I want the language and visuals to be really vivid and powerful. A lot of times that will propel the story off in unexpected directions. And you always have to listen to your characters if they start talking back. There have been times when I’m in the middle of a story and it suddenly tells me where to go rather than the other way around. When that happens it’s always more surprising and the end result is a better story.
TSR: What is it you love about writing and is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
SW: For me, the most fun is when I think I’ve come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before. It’s a visceral feeling of excitement that ignites the next phase of imagining what I want the story to be. And if new ideas keep popping up during the writing process it can get kind of giddy. In some ways, you’re writing a story because it’s something you yourself want to read. It can be an exhilarating feeling because there are no boundaries or restrictions to what you can do. Of course, some stories can be more difficult to figure out than others and that’s when it can be frustrating.
Marketing and the business side are the challenging part, but equally important. You can’t have one without the other. Writers tend to be on the introspective side, but the heavy lifting of getting what you write to the outside world requires a completely different set of personality traits. The challenge for writers is to be as heroic and aggressive as the characters in their stories. With all the different aspects though, it’s more about hard work than inspiration.
TSR: I imagine there are books you’ve read that have had an influence on you, can you tell me about them?
SW: I can’t express how important reading is to becoming a writer. The great books you read growing up and through your life are the fire that forges just about everything that makes you a writer. I have a really long list, but these are the ones that still burn the brightest.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, Dune by Frank Herbert, Imagica by Clive Barker, The Safety of Unknown Cities by Lucy Taylor, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, and short stories by Thomas Liggotti, Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, and H.P Lovecraft.
I tend to like books that have an unbounded imaginative ambition coupled with a writing style that’s very literary and vivid. Language is very important. I want it to be as compelling and startling as the story itself.
TSR: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
SW: I’m a huge fan of Clive Barker. What I like is that he’s completely fearless. He writes about darkness and eroticism in a way that can be both beautiful and horrific at the same time. His imagination is amazing, and he writes with a kind of gothic elegance I love. Great horror fiction is about barreling through the unseen barriers in our world and revealing another reality that’s intensely more eerie and scary. He has one of my favorite quotes about writing.
“Writing about the unholy is one way of writing about what is sacred.”
TSR: The World on Fire is a great title, how did you come up with the title and where did the idea for the book come from?
SW: I can’t remember where the title came from, other than the desire to have something that was apocalyptic and visual. The story itself is a mash-up of different genre elements I’ve always liked. There’s the mysterious stranger with an ominous past, a character who’s struggling his way back from a tragedy, a bunch of over-the-top bad guys, and a morally flawed lawman, all thrown together on a cross country road-trip that’s filled with action, horror, and spooky surprises. I wanted it to have pulpy comic book energy, but also say something about the times we live in.
TSR: The Angel of Death was a great antagonist and I really liked him, what reaction did you expect the reader to have?
SW: He’s very extreme, so I knew there was a risk it would turn readers off. But the point of the book is that with “right” and “wrong” it all depends on your point of view. In today’s world incredible atrocities are being done by people who are convinced they are doing God’s work. I like what Matthew Scott Baker said in a review on Hellnotes:
“This is a complex tale that blurs the line between right and wrong and makes you reconsider what you know about good and evil.”
TSR: What is your favorite length of work to write, short story, novella or novel and why?
SW: I guess I enjoy writing short stories the most because you can have an idea and blast out the story pretty quickly after that, so it’s a purer feeling of creativity. With a novel it’s a marathon that feels great at the end, but can be very draining and tiring along the way.
TSR: Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that you found helpful to you as a writer?
SW: Usually reviews are helpful because they affirm what you were trying to do, or point out where you fell short. The risk is when you’re writing a horror story that is meant to provoke and rattle the reader, the review can depend very much on the sensibilities of the reviewer. I’ve always been very appreciative of anyone who’s taken the time to read and review my stuff.
TSR: Can you tell me what’s coming next from Sheldon Woodbury?
SW: I have some new stories and poems coming out I’m very excited about. I have a story in Lovecraft After Dark from James Ward Kirk Publishing, a poem in Gothic Tales of Terror from Verto Publishing, and a story in Weird Ales, a KnightWatch Press anthology, along with some others.
I’m working on a YA novel called Spook House. It’s about a teenaged boy who thinks he has a secret Jekyll and Hyde personality. He’s sent to an asylum for the criminally insane and discovers his life has been much more macabre than he ever could have imagined
Thank you Sheldon for talking with me today I always love to learn more about the authors I’ve read. It’s great to hear you have a number of new stories and poems for your readers. I really enjoyed The World on Fire and I’ll be looking for Spook House in the future.