Today, I am happy to have T.s. Woolard make stop by my blog for an interview. T.s. Woolard is a horror fiction author. T.S. Woolard lives in North Carolina with his wife and four Jack Russell Terriers. For more of his work, look for Indiana Horror Review 2013, Bones II, Memento Mori, Serial Killers Quattour, Demonic Possession & Cellar Door III: Animals, all by jwkfiction, and Floppy Shoes Apocalypse by J. Ellington Ashton Press. I recently read and reviewed T.s. Wooland’s book Solo Circus and had an opportunity to ask a few questions about the book and the life of an writer, here is what Shane had to say.
Let’s start at the beginning: How did writing find you? Or did you find it?
It kind of happened both ways, really. I was an only child, growing up between a tobacco field and a soy bean patch. Summers were spent chasing June Bugs and working. Winters were spent prepping meat for the next year and putting up vegetables and stuff. There was nothing in that life to keep my imagination grounded.
I searched for an outlet for years. Music, sports, anything really. Then one day, a day that changed my life, I found one of my uncle’s, James, notebook. He was a bitter, depressed guy. He wrote poetry. Dark stuff, but amazing. I found it and it seemed to change everything for me. I still loved music and sports—and still do now—but writing, creating something from nothing, was what I loved. Learning someone I knew, hugged, loved, was a writer showed me I could do it, made it attainable. Over time the style of writing I did evolved, but the feeling I had that day of finding that notebook—intrigue, desire, fulfillment—stayed with me through it all.
What is your writing process? Do you plan everything in advance or enjoy letting the story take you wherever it’s going to go and not know the details yourself in advance?
Again, the answer to this is a little bit of both. I like to let a story idea simmer before doing anything with it. If it’s a truly good idea it will stick around—as I like to say, haunt me. After six months or so of hanging around with me, I’ll start to outline it. I do character names and a general idea of what’s going to happen. With that said, I do not restrict myself with that outline. Sometimes the characters like to say, “Fuck your outline and ideas”. When they do, I listen. They are the boss, in the end. I am only the vehicle they take into this world. There will be an example of this later.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I love sports. Pretty much any kind, too. Football, baseball, extreme sports, motorsports, golf, wrestling (pro and amateur), I play on a Billiards league and golf on average once a week. I love anything to do with sports. Always have since I was very young. My first memories of this world involve sports. That’s something my mother absolutely hates.
I also love video games and music. I like RPG games, like The Elder Scrolls ad Dragon Age. I find a lot of inspiration in them. As far as music, I have a very eclectic taste. I go from Hank Williams Jr. and David Allan Coe to HURT and Rob Zombie to Ludacris and E-40. I played trombone in school for Jazz band. By the time I graduated I could play everything in the band room except drums. I loved music and everything involved in it. It’s really my first avenue into writing.
To your mind, what makes something horrific over, say, thrilling?
The reality of it. All the blood and gore, and just plain weird shit, can’t touch the fear of something that could actually happen. Also suspense. Build an uneasy feeling until it’s brimming over, coming out in the sweat through my pores. That’s when it becomes fear, even panic.
What do you love and hate about writing?
I love being able to live another life. In a way, that’s what I do. I wrote a set of short stories that all tie together. They are spread out over four different anthologies. The main plot line deals with pirates, so I researched them until I knew so much about them I could’ve fit in with the golden age of piracy, just give me a parrot and eye patch. Take Dear Mr. Burton. I was a serial killer writing letters to a victim’s father. That sounds dramatic, but I believe that anyone who writes, sings, paints, draws, reads, or watches TV and movies do the same thing. For that little while, you’re living another life.
I hate—absolutely hate—nothing. It’s true there’s not a lot of money, if any, to be made unless your King James or Stephen King (apparently being a King is important in literature). It’s true there are nine million people in the world who think you’re lazy (I mean, let’s face the fact that being a writer means you excel at sitting in one spot for a long period of time), people often tell you how easy what you do is, and sometimes writing feels like Chinese Water Torture. But none of that, not one single thing, makes me hate it. It adds a certain mystic to being an author. It’s the greatest thing in the world to me.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Keeping, what I call, “country grammar” out of my stories. I try to keep the plot of everything I write in the south, North Carolina if possible. The reason for that isn’t as obvious as it seems. I do it because I’ve lived here all my life. I know the way folks around here talk and their gestures and the kind of people they are. I use here as a setting because, to me, it makes my characters more authentic, more real. So when doing that, I tend to use southern slang in the dialogue. Not everyone gets it, and I have to go back and tone it down in the editing process. I try to weed every bit of it out of the narrating of the story altogether, too.
What books have most influenced your life most?
I enjoy this question because people who read my work hear a part of this always go “Oh that makes so much sense!” The first book I read on my own, ever, was Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I was eleven years old. I loved it. I thought, for years, that was the perfect story. That had a huge impact on my writing style.
Other books that influenced my life on a personal level were For One More Day by Mitch Albom and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). My mother made me read these to books, and when I finished them both I was crying and telling her I loved her and hated her for making me read them at the same time. I suggest that everyone read For One More Day, regardless of your tastes or preference. It’s a great, quick read.
What is your all-time favorite horror novel, and film?
The best book I’ve ever read in my life, without question, is HORNS by Joe Hill. I’m an incredibly slow reader, and I spent six hours reading the last one-hundred-fifty pages of this book, the last two hours were spent crying like a baby in the octagon with Ronda Rousey. I was a mess. It is amazing to me. So real and surreal simultaneously. I got chills answering the question.
My favorite horror film is Paranormal Activity. Again, the suspense they build with Katie just standing there staring at Micah lying in the bed is panic inducing. Also the simplicity of that movie adds to the creepiness. Nothing looks CGI. It all looks just like what it’s supposed to be: home movies.
I have some older stand-by favorites, like Secret Window, Sinister, and I’ll watch Strangeland any time I see it come on. One of my characters, Jerry Thomas, is a Captain Howdy kind of guy.
Can you tell us a little about Solo Circus?
Solo Circus is a collection of thirteen short stories and two flash fiction pieces. Five of the short stories were previously published by jwkfiction, including an Editor’s Choice Award winner. The other ten were new for the collection. Two won an online contest and three of the others were deadline-missers. Five of the stories were written specifically for Solo Circus. It is, however, a collection spanning the course of six years worth of short story writing. Because of that, each story is unique in topics and style.
Your latest book, Solo Circus, was a great read, how did you come up with the title?
First of all, thank you, sir.
When I was writing strictly poetry—mostly bad poetry—I wrote everything in spiral notebooks. When I’d fill one up, I’d read through it and name it using the overall theme as a tool. One I wrote during my uncle’s divorce and my grandfather dying. I read through it and named it, Death, Divorce & Despair. It was just for me, a little thing I did.
Well, one of them I finished and read through it. One of the poems in it was just plain weird, talking about the things and characters going on inside my head. I never named that poem. When I was trying to name the notebook that poem kept nudging me, like it was saying, “Hi, I’m right here.” That poem and notebook was named Solo Circus. I fell in love with that name and told my wife and family (this was years before I even submitted stuff for publication) that the first thing I published that was mine alone would be called Solo Circus. The meaning behind it is you’re all attending the circus inside my head. It’s a strange place sometimes.
Can you tell me where the idea for “Baylor’s Burden” came from? This was one of my favorite stories.
It was also my aunt’s favorite story in the whole collection, which surprised me quite a bit. This story is built completely on religion. I am a deeply religious person, but I love exploring other religion’s beliefs and trying to sew a story together based on several religion’s thoughts on the afterlife and what have you. I have a story in an anthology coming out this year. The anthology is called, Doorway to Death: An Anthology for the Other Side, through J. Ellington Ashton Press. The story I wrote for it is called The Toll. There are about four religions mixed together to make that story.
This one is based on Catholicism. I’m not sure where the characters came from. They just kind of popped there heads up and said “I’m ready to be written”. It got gory during one point, which is always fun for me because my writing rarely gets gruesome. I lean more toward dark atmosphere and uneasy feelings. This one was fun though. It seemed natural for the train to go through Hell. It just grew from there.
“Dear Mr. Burton” was by far, to me, the best story in your book. Can you tell me how this story came about?
You’re not the only one. This story has been well received. It’s very funny how this came about, but first I want to say it is also going to be featured in Midnight Remains by J. Ellington Ashton Press, as well.
Now, back to the outline question. This is one of those came-out-of-nowhere stories. I was writing The Damn Clown Story that’s in Floppy Shoes Apocalypse. I got stuck in that story and wanted to write another story to add to Solo Circus. So, I sat down and wrote a sentence.
“Writers write, as the saying goes.”
I didn’t know about a Mr. Burton, a serial killer, or a single thing that was going to happen after that. Roughly five hours later, I had another story for my collection. The crazy thing about this story is I had no idea who the killer was before I wrote it myself. I was as surprised as anyone.
I was slightly influenced by the short story Best New Horror by Joe Hill, though. In that story a killer wrote a story about his actual killing and was selected to be published in an anthology of Best New Horror.
How many stories did you write that you felt didn’t feel right for this book?
Oh god, several. There are probably another fifteen that didn’t make it for one reason or another. Most reasons were because I had a story with a similar tone to it. Baylor’s Burden was almost cut because Deadly Death, U.S.A. is also a western, but I thought the Civil War aspect and religious overtones of Baylor’s Burden set it apart from the more hard-boiled western mystery of Deadly Death. There are a few more Death, U.S.A. short stories. They all tie into a novel I wrote three or four years ago I never got around to trying to get published. There’s a couple more entries to the Before Hell story. That, too, is a short building on the world of a novel I wrote—actually the first novel I wrote—I never got around to publishing. That series of stories has my favorite character I ever created in it, Jerry Thomas. But I didn’t want to keep adding on one storyline in this collecction. Many of the worlds I create intermingle with each other sooner or later. This collection was supposed to showcase the many different subjects, tones, and my abilities as a writer.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Yes. Your in depth review was interesting for me. I loved reading how deep someone looked into my work like that. It was surreal to me. I also loved John F.D. Taff’s Amazon review. As someone who has offered way more than a hand in my progression as a writer, what he thought was very fun to read and mattered quite a bit to me.
I got a bad review on a rejection one time. It was for a magazine, and happens to be one of the stories in this collection. They sent it back and told me the story was awesome but I had too much passive voice and too many adverbs. Now, coming from a poet’s perspective, which was mainly what I had done to that point, passive voice and adverbs could be life savers in structural situations. I didn’t realize it was looked down on so much in story telling. Well, I went through a lot of my work and saw the problem creeping up in everything. I went back and changed the story that’s in Solo Circus, and wrote with the purpose of trying to avoid those problems to this day. But that little tidbit of a review stuck with me, and helped a lot.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
This is a tough question for me. So many folks have helped me along the way. Dona Fox, Alice J. Black, James Ward Kirk, and almost anything John F.D. Taff has told me has been like giving me the goose’s golden egg. But before any of them I got some advice from a woman named Gaby, affectionately known as Blue Witch. When she was helping me with a story one time I was being a little asshole and was trying to defend my work. She emailed me and asked one simple thing:
“Are you gonna shut the hell up and listen, or do you know it all already?”
If I had to give a new author any advice, the best thing to help them going forward, it would be that no matter how much you love your story, it can be improved. If you’re going to shut people out you’re never going to learn a thing, therefore you will never grow as a writer. I’m not saying everything someone thinks is noteworthy, I’m saying listen and see if it is. If you’re discounting it before it comes out their mouths, you’re only hurting yourself. Since that email to this day, I think my biggest strength as a writer has been accepting my flaws and willingness to try to fix them.
What’s next on your agenda, what can I, and your readers, expect next and when.
I’ve got a lot of things on the horizon. Several appearances in J. Ellington Ashton Press anthology releases. I’ve had a few things released through jwkfiction since Solo Circus, including one of the companion short stories to Before Hell. It was in Indiana Horror Review 2014. One of the tie-in shorts for Deadly Death, U.S.A. will be in Straight 2 Video through J. Ellington Ashton. Also, Undead Legacy, an anthology of zombies, featuring my short story W.W.Y.D. was just released March 29th. It has several authors you are familiar with. Dona Fox, Alice J. Black, Essel Pratt, K.Z. Morano and many more.
I am currently working on something special. It started as just some down time writing and has grown to something I’m loving. I can’t wait to see where it ends up, and hopefully spend more time being interviewed by you, my friend. It’s been a pleasure!
Thank you Shane for taking time away from writing and sharing so much great behind the scenes details. I love chatting with writers and finding out what makes them tick and how it all works. I’m glad you found my review a positive one for you, I love to dive in to the story no matter how short or long and really dissect what the author is writing. It sounds like a very busy year you have planned and I’m interested in this new book you just released along with your other stories I have yet to read.
Where can you find T.s. Woolard?