An interview with… HALEY NEWLIN

Haley Newlin attended Southern New Hampshire University, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in English and Creative Writing -Speculative Fiction. When she’s not spinning tales of blood and terror, Newlin is likely falling victim to jump-scares and strobing torments from The Conjuring Universe or reading Stephen King. 

Newlin has published two novels, Not Another Sarah Halls and Take Your Turn, Teddy. Her love of all things dark and grim inspired Newlin to share the horror genre’s inherent beauty through her writing. Newlin weaves stories of madness and curiosity that whisper, “What are you afraid of?” She believes that horror begs self-reflection, and perhaps that is what makes these twisted tales truly terrifying.

Take Your Turn, Teddy Summary: 

Nothing has been normal for Teddy, not since discovering the harsh reality of the monster he had been living with his whole life. He and his mother left that behind to start over in a small Indiana township, but as Teddy begins to learn of humanity’s monsters, he’ll unveil an otherworldly evil which he calls “The Shadow.” The Shadow tests Teddy’s vulnerability and a growing sense of isolation, poisoning his mind, and conjuring a vile killer-in-the-making.

Do you remember what was the first story you’ve written?

I used to write stories as a kid for my identical twin sister, Hanna. She was afraid of thunderstorms growing up, so I would write stories for her to read while we hunkered down in the basement. It was a comic book-styled story about a hero called “Baby Egg.” Baby Egg saved friends around the kitchen from being cooked until he met his own tragic end after being bumped off the counter.

My first real story was a gothic piece called “The Tactics of a Cryptic Arbitrator.” I wrote it for the Penmen Review Fall Fiction Contest as an undergrad at Southern New Hampshire University in 2016. The response from my professors and peers pushed me into studying writing further to write a full-length novel.

The Tactics of a Cryptic Arbitratorhttp://penmenreview.com/the-tactics-of-a-cryptic-arbitrator/

Your debut novel, Not Another Sarah Halls, came out on December 2019. Do you want to tell us something about that?

Writing Not Another Sarah Halls is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. In writing it, I unlocked what I found to be what I call “the beauty of horror,” it’s unique ability to prompt self-reflection. The novel started as a mystery, but my amazing editor, Clayton, said, “This wants to be darker.” So, I transitioned from a mystery author to horror, and will forever be grateful for that shift. I owe so much to that Stephen King-loving genius. He worked with me on my second novel, Take Your Turn, Teddy too. 

Not Another Sarah Halls:

Your new novel, Take Your Turn, Teddy, will come out on December 2020. What should we expect from it?

Take Your Turn, Teddy definitely dials up the horror factor. Not Another Sarah Halls was meant to be a YA-Horror story of guidance. Take Your Turn, Teddy is not only Adult Horror, but a cautionary tale.

In Take Your Turn, Teddy, the titular main character is faced with an otherworldly evil called The Shadow. Is there a Jungian influence here? How much psychology and the mental health scope influence your stories?

I was initially a Creative Writing & English major and minor in Psychology. So, a lot of my work has a psychological/mental health scope. I would say if you wanted to sub-categorize my work, it would fall under Psychological Horror. 

The Shadow entity is based on Carl Jung’s archetype. The shadow archetype exists in the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos, and the unknown. Much as we do day to day with these emotions of anger, jealously, et cetera, Teddy will struggle with repressing the whispers of physical manifestation I’ve created called The Shadow. It gives a body to that part of our psyche and supports Jung’s claim that the shadow “… cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmless.” 

I struggle with mental health myself, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. With my mental battles, what drew me to the shadow, was the idea of control –either giving it up or fighting to reclaim it. The shadows of our minds want us to believe that control is long lost. But it’s not.

How is the horror scope in your fiction built?

There are so many factors that go into the horror scope in my work. Most of it stems from this idea that fear itself is universal, but what we’re afraid of and why is incredibly individualized. I try to create characters and manifestations that make the reader ask, “What would this manifestation use against me?” It also gives readers the chance to reflect on how they might beat it. I think there’s something incredibly and uniquely empowering in that sentiment of the genre. 

I tend to rely on the integration of themes, symbols, and more to establish a sense of dread and unease throughout my novels, rather than lacing the story with continuous jump-scares. I’d say I learned that from the author, who creates that unyielding disturbance better than anyone – Shirley Jackson.

How important is the setting in your stories?

Setting is such a crucial element in my books. In Take Your Turn, Teddy, I’m working with the theme of isolation. So, I chose rural Indiana, the 1970s setting, because I wanted Teddy to be without the technology that would connect him to other people, take him away from a lot of other kids his age, and so on. In this small-town setting, I instilled extra add-ons to create a sense of dread and unease, like the abandoned look of his house, small-town legends, and the copper smell that comes from the abattoir down the road. Plus, I love making nods to ’70s serial killers, where the term “serial killer” really came from following Ted Bundy, the Manson Family, and Zodiac Killer.

Many horror creatures are tied to religion (at least in classic versions); do you find this to be a limit to creativity?

I don’t typically tie my horror manifestations to religion. Instead, I connect them to the darker parts of humanity. I don’t think we need a theological reasoning behind horror. Though I think people lean on it to make sense of the indescribable. For me, horror is about the capabilities of humanity; it’s unpredictability. That’s what I find truly terrifying. Then, I just give those elements a mold.

Do you come from a literary background?

I didn’t have anyone in my family who wrote, but my grandfather got me into music when I was little. The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers album blew me away. I would sit next to him and just be in awe of the stories the group could weave into those few minutes of a song. Then, I really got into reading from there, starting with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and eventually finding my way to the father of horror himself, Stephen King. King’s novel IT incited my love of horror. To this day, Pennywise is my favorite horror icon.

What is your next project? What’s next for you after 2020?

My goal in 2019 was to write three books in three years. After publishing my second novel this December, I will begin drafting my third. My third novel will take place in the 1960s and follows a young man who works in the hospital’s morgue. The idea came to me after listening to a story from my grandfather. He worked in the hospital morgue when he was younger. It seemed like the perfect setting for a good ghost story.

Do you have a writing process and do you have a writing place?

My writing process begins with identifying rules of the world I’m building. That doesn’t always mean having the horror manifestation figured out, but identifying how it controls or victimizes characters. From there, I devour as much horror content as I can, including movies like “Halloween” and “The Conjuring,” whatever Mike Flanagan is working on, and horror novels like The Outsider. I take inventory of techniques used in these books and movies and try to determine how they might work in my own story. It’s a maddening process sometimes, but it’s mine. 

I love writing in my office. I have done a good job making it the ideal writing space for me with my Crosley record player (I always have to have music playing while I work), a bookcase full of Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and my trustee writing assistants, Murphy and Ferris (my furry children).

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

When I first started writing, the publishing industry terrified me. Then, I read Chuck Sambuchino’s book, Create Your Writer Platform. His book helped me build connections within the writing community, and I became more confident in sharing my work and writing process online. That’s how my publisher found me.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Common traps for aspiring authors include cold outreaches from people who claim to have ties to a publisher. They usually ask for an upfront fee to publish your work. I recommend writers always do their research and try to connect the individual who has contacted them to a credible institution. If you can’t find much on them, that’s not a good sign.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

I love writing, but there are days when it’s the last thing I want to do. Every author gets frustrated or stuck in a writing rut. In my experience, sticking it out and pushing through those days, allows for those energetic ah-ha moments that lead to a 3,000-word writing session. These days are tiring, but there’s nothing like finishing a chapter and feeling like it progresses the story with so much intention and direction.

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

I definitely think that formal instruction helps writing. In my undergrad program, I learned how to read as a writer. The writing program at SNHU also gave me an extensive understanding of the conventions and tropes of horror. Now, when I go through that phase of my writing process, where I devour horror content, my appetite is guided. I don’t fill up on gore and scare, what some might refer to as the desserts table. Instead, I get a taste of everything and find what works best for each story.

What was a prominent genre on your bookshelf growing up?

Growing up, I was into mystery and gothic fiction. I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I was really into The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids too. Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots and Witches Don’t Do Backflips were my favorite.

Is there anything you find bad about the horror movement?

I think the horror movement needs to become a bit more inclusive. It was only a few years ago that the first African-American won the Bram Stoker award. The recipient’s name is Linda Addison. Read her collection How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend or Four Elements, and you’ll see how wickedly talented Addison is.  

Also, it wasn’t until Jordan Peele created Us, that I had ever seen a black character, let alone a black family, as the focus of a horror movie. 

Both Peele and Addison have influenced my work beyond measure.

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

When I’m not writing, I love walking my dogs, Ferris and Murphy, watching horror movies with my boyfriend Jeremy, or reading Stephen King. I read all the time. I’m trying to broaden my horror horizons, and am currently reading Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. Stay tuned for my review on my Instagram (@haleynewlin_author) and my GoodReads account. 

My twin sister and I also have wine nights where we watch Tim Burton Movies or Bob’s Burgers.

How do you manage to fit your writing with the other demands of life? Are you good at managing your time?

This is never done without difficulty. Sometimes I know I need to write, but I feel mentally drained after work and end up watching another “Supernatural” episode instead.  So, I find that balance by creating weekly goals rather than daily ones. This allows me to take that time for myself when needed without feeling guilty.

Writing, editing, proofreading, marketing, cover design… do you write all these hat yourself or do you have someone you can trust to help you with those?

I have a great team at New Degree Press to help with editing, proofreading, and cover design. I will be sharing cover mockups for Take Your Turn, Teddy on my social media pages in a few weeks (see the links below).

How important is a book’s cover?

As a creator myself, I do judge books by their covers. A book cover is like art wrapped in art. I love looking at the color schemes and imagery created in a cover to tease at symbols and plot points in the book. I’m so in love with the cover for my debut novel, Not Another Sarah Halls. The cover made the release of my first novel even more special for me.

With the advent of social media, is it still important to have a personal website for an indie author?

Yes. I think any way an Indie author can get their name out there, they should. I’ve come across people who have said, “I found you on Instagram, or searched your name and found your book through your website.” You never really know where connections lie, so making yourself as accessible as you can is essential. Plus, I like to share some of my less known short stories on my site as well. Sometimes I’ll share exclusive sneak peeks for upcoming projects too. 

https://authorhaleynewlin.wordpress.com/

Do you plan the story in advance, or start with a premise and see where it goes from there?

My stories always begin with a premise. Take Your Turn, Teddy came from a dream my boyfriend had one night. He woke up in the middle of the night and told me all about it. It was one of the only times in my life where someone has said, “You should write a book about that,” and I agreed. His genuine love of horror, as a fan, not a creator, makes his ideas and input incredibly important to me. Jeremy usually knows more about my work than anyone else.

How important are the names of your characters?

The names of my characters are typically intentional. For example, Teddy’s last name is Blackwood. This is a nod to the Merricat Blackwood in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Officer Strode is named after Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis’ character in John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Do you want to give us some of your contacts?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/haleynewlinwriter/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/haleynewlin22

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/haleynewlin_author/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19794206.Haley_Newlin

Website: https://authorhaleynewlin.wordpress.com/

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