An Interview With… Stephanie Rabig

What was your first book and when did you write it?

I wrote a fantasy/romance trilogy with an old friend of mine several years ago, and was new enough to the business that I actually went through a vanity press. Oh, self. 

Do you normally research your stories before you write it, or do you start with a general concept and see where it goes while writing?

A little bit of both?  It really depends on the project– when I work with my best friend, we have a general concept and some characters and just see what happens. When I work alone, I have a more specific plan, outlines, etc.  

Can you tell us something about your beginning in the indie world?

My beginning in the indie world was awful (see: vanity press) 😉  but as I evolved as a writer and watched self-publishing evolve, too, I found out it’s a fascinating process. I love small presses– I’m querying two books right now– and I definitely wouldn’t rule out self-publishing again. For editing, I have a small circle of trustworthy friends and either pay them for an edit job or edit one of their projects in turn. For book covers, it depends on how much money I have at the time. I love looking through premade book covers (Kealan Patrick Burke’s Elderlemon Design ones are always wonderful) but oftentimes I am broke and cobble something together.   

Many horror creatures are tied to religion (vampires, ghosts, possessions, demons, devils). Do you find this to put a limit to horror creativity as a genre?

Not at all!  Though there are ties to religion, there are also ways to subvert those ties, and it also depends so much on the perspective of the writer (an atheist wouldn’t come at the subject of demonic possession in the same way as a Catholic).  

Can you tell us about your blog?

I have two:  the first is made up of live-Tweet style reviews of horror novels; I write down impressions as I’m reading the book and gather them together, along with favorite lines and overall thoughts. My second blog is for an ongoing serial fiction piece called Pale Moon, about a woman who finds herself brought into a werewolf pack after she unwittingly rescues one of them.

Can you tell us about your experiences with publishing houses?

I was on a short list at LT3 Press and had most everything published through there for the last five years.

Do you find that being based in a town, rather than a city, for example, can influence a writer’s career?

Oh, absolutely. I’m sure that if I’d stayed in Chicago (where I was born) I’d be a much different writer than I am now, having grown up in a small Bible-belt town in Kansas. We’re influenced by our experiences, after all, and someone raised in a big city is going to have different experiences than someone who grew up in the Stranger-Things-esque environment of “have fun with your friends and be back before dark”. 

Did you start by writing novel or you “evolved” into it after writing a lot of short stories?

I jumped straight into writing novels when I was about eleven (though they were, of course, terrible). 😉 I’ve written several queer romance short stories, but so far for the horror genre I prefer writing novels. 

Do you have a formal writing instruction (for example, a degree in creative writing)? Do you think that a formal instruction helps writing?

The most I’ve had of formal instruction is a couple of creative writing classes in college. I think that formal instruction can help, but it’ll largely depend on the writer. Some people thrive in a group environment like that, with peer critiques, and others will do better with small online groups or largely solitary work. There’s not really a one-size-fits-all, and I think you just have to know yourself well enough to figure out what you’re most comfortable with, and pursue that. (also, a degree depends so much on finances)

Have you ever killed a character you didn’t want to?

Yessss. I don’t do it unless it makes sense for the storyline/stakes, but especially in horror, there’s gonna be casualties.

How do you choose your characters’ names and how important are the names of the characters in your stories?

Mostly I use a site called Behind the Name, which has a lot of options– you can look up names by theme, definition, origin, etc.  (there’s also a companion site Behind the Surname, which is a great resource for last names). I also like looking around cemeteries for interesting names on the gravestones. The names are one of the first things I pursue when starting a new project; I can’t really get a good sense of a character until I have a name for them.

Was horror a prominent genre on your bookshelf growing up or has it surfaced as an adult?

It was so prominent. My dad kept his Stephen Kings on the lowest shelf (due to weight) and I got into them at far too young an age. 🙂 We watched a lot of the classic Hammer horror, Vincent Price; I wore out an old comic of Edgar Allen Poe stories illustrated by Gahan Wilson.  It was everywhere.

Is there anything you find bad for the horror genre? For example, how do you feel about the stigma attached to being a horror writer?

People who dismiss horror as nothing but bloodbaths are certainly missing out, but I haven’t really seen much of that misconception lately (then again, I may hang out in the wrong circles for it).  I love this genre and the people I’ve found here, and as I’ve gotten older it’s become a lot easier to just let the naysayers be.

What, if anything, is currently missing from the horror genre?

I think very few things are ‘missing’– there are so many amazing indies out there– but I’d love for there to be more queer horror overall.  And not necessarily as Issue Novels or Metaphors For Homophobia, but just… “a family moves into a haunted house” but it’s two wives instead of a husband and wife. 

A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the sociopolitical climate. Considering the current state of the world, where do you see horror going in the next few years?

(We asked Tim this question before the COVID-19 outbreak.)

I anticipate a lot of ‘Donald’s and ‘Mitch’s for villain names.  😉    Really, though, I’d love it if we examined some of the classic tropes in light of the internet giving us better exposure to marginalized voices (for example, if I never see another “g*psy curse” plotline, that would be wonderful). 

If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?

The scantily-clad woman in the forest tripping as she runs away from the killer. Even subverted, it usually makes me groan.  ((though there was a really fun take on this scenario at the beginning of Tragedy Girls, so every rule has its exception))

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?

Hmmm.  I hate to say ‘never’, because I don’t know what ideas/plotlines/characters I may come up with in the future. There are subjects that it’s difficult for me to read about– rape, trauma happening to children– and I have to approach those books with caution. 

Does horror fiction perpetuate its own ghettoization?  For example, Julia Armfield’s collection Salt Slow has a cover that most horror fans would walk past in a book shop, and is one that probably is not marketed as horror; so does the genre’s obsession with horrific covers cause more harm than good? And how important is the cover when it comes down to selling the book?

Good cover art is, I think, amazingly important– considering Instagram and the like, seeing a great cover might be what convinces someone to buy your book instead of scrolling by.  I don’t think a horror novel necessarily has to have a flat-out terrifying cover, but something unique that fits with the overall tone of the novel. The cover for Nicholas Day’s “Grind Your Bones to Dust”, for instance, isn’t a ‘scary’ cover, but it is beautifully eye-catching.

How important is it to use an editor?

To me, a fresh set of eyes looking over your work is essential. That said, you have to find what works for you. With my self-pub work, I’m often broke as hell and can’t afford a professional editor, but I have a trusted friend who will point out “hey, this novel’d be great if it wasn’t for this plot hole you could drive a truck through”, and then I’ll edit her novels in turn.

Do you want to talk about your current project?

Always. 😉 I already talked a little about one of my projects, Pale Moon; the other one is a series called Cryptids & Cauldrons, about a group of people who have set up a network across the nation to track, capture, or kill cryptids. My NaNo was actually a prequel to the C&C series, about the workers at a 1920s traveling sideshow who started the organization.  What I love about both Pale Moon and C&C is that they’re “queer found-family horror”, where people who otherwise likely never would’ve met come together under horrifying circumstances, and create their own communities.

What do you do when you’re not knee-deep in horror?

— craft projects (pin hoops, resin jewelry, creating tea blends)

— TV.  Brooklyn 99, The Good Place, I’ve seen Good Omens an embarrassing number of times…

— nonfiction is another favorite book genre of mine, esp. search and rescue type stories.

— my kids factor in here somewhere  😉

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