Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barrymore Tebbs: An Author Interview

Barrymore Tebbs is an up and coming novelist. He and I have done beta reading together, and I am pleased to have him as the guest on the blog today!

1. What genre(s) do you most enjoy writing in and why?

Currently I am working in the gothic horror genre. Between Night of the Pentagram and The Haunting at Blackwood Hall there is a lot of supernatural and occult activity. There are so many possibilities to explore from werewolves to Ouija boards. My work is heavily influenced by the Gothic soap opera from the 1960s, Dark Shadows. I was in grade school at the time it originally aired and throughout my life I have tried to emulate its storylines in my writing in one form or another. Horror in general is not as popular today as it was in the 80s and Gothic is certainly in remission, so part of the reason I enjoy writing in this genre is that the market is not oversaturated with either style at the moment.

2. What has most influenced your writing over the years? I am thinking novels, movies, television, etc.

Dark Shadows, of course, and the classic horror films from Hammer Films and Universal Studios are strong story and visual influences. As a teenager I was very influenced by the American Gothic novelist Barbara Michaels. In my late teens I read a lot of Joyce Carol Oates who frequently dips into the Gothic pool. Bellefleur has been a lasting influence on me. The late Southern Gothic novelist Michael McDowell is another big influence. His stories are weird, fun, Gothic, scary, peopled with incredible characters, and highly entertaining. Thomas Tryon’s The Other, Judith Hawkes’ Julian’s House, and Douglas Clegg’s The Hour Before Dark are the kind of stories that I aspire to write.

3. When did you complete your first novel, and what are your next steps as a writer?

I finished the “polished” first draft of Night of the Pentagram this past October and immediately started outlining plots and characters for my current work in progress. I’ve received some encouragement and constructive feedback from beta readers for Night of the Pentagram. Once the first draft of my current work in progress is complete I will make revisions to Night of the Pentagram and start submitting it to potential agents and publishers.

My current work in progress is tentatively titled The Haunting at Blackwood Hall. It is an old fashioned Victorian Gothic ghost story set in “Baskerville Country”. This one is more overtly supernatural than Night of the Pentagram and is peopled with a handful of wretched and miserable characters as well as an arch bad guy whom I have nicknamed “Mr. Sandman”.

4. What are your main strengths as a writer?

I think my main strength is in creating visuals for the readers. Most of the feedback on Night of the Pentagram to date has been of the “I can totally picture this” variety. I also like to create larger than life characters and as a writer I am learning every day that it’s okay to let go and let these people be mean, ugly, abusive, what have you, and then show a side of them that reveals that they do have a human heart after all. I read a lot of psychological thrillers, James Lee Burke and John Connolly and the like, and this is a common trait in their writing in the way they draw characters in their novels. Hopefully this is something that comes across in my writing. Also, my work is liberally sprinkled with a wicked sense of humor and people seem to like that. I think horror works best when it is carefully punctuated with humor.

5. What other artistic pursuits do you enjoy?

I am a huge music fan, mostly as a participant, although I have played guitar in the past. Cincinnati, where I currently live, has a vibrant independent rock music scene. There are many great bands producing and performing here, really something for everyone’s taste. Some weekends there are too many options, but I love going to see my favorite acts as often as possible. I like opera and theatre. Incidentally, the first opera I ever saw was Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw! I am an avid amateur photographer and am fairly well skilled in Adobe Photoshop. I created the inverted star graphic that accompanies this interview as a potential book cover for Night of the Pentagram.

6. What is your writing process (in brief)? For example, are you just a person who gets it all on paper and revises later, or do you carefully plan and outline each novel?

I wrote off and on for years without being able to complete anything. I think this shortcoming was because I would get a concept and jump right in and start writing without any consideration for character depth or plotting. Once I realized that my best process would be to create character biographies and a plot outline/synopsis before I began writing I was able to finish my first book in a relatively short amount of time and then turned around and plunged right into a second one. I have read both pros and cons of this method, but if there is a magic formula for writing long form fiction, this seems to be the one for me.

7. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or something else?

Yes please! And why not? They are all “children of the night” and I would be quite happy to continue working in the genre and creating tales centered around these classic supernatural creatures. I have a half finished manuscript involving werewolves in the Louisiana Bayous which I hope to get back to in the near future.

8. Which living or non-living writers do you admire and why?

Several years ago I fell in love with the Dave Robicheaux detective novels by James Lee Burke. I admire Burke’s poetic simplicity and complexity of characters. Legion Guidry in Jolie Blon’s Bounce is one of the most evil characters of all time and yet Burke was able to show very human and sympathetic sides to this villain. Burke is a Southern writer first and foremost, so even though he is writing detective thrillers, his work frequently verges on Southern Gothic.

Shirley Jackson has been a long time favorite, as well as the aforementioned Barbara Michaels. I recently reread Michaels’ occult trilogy, Ammie Come Home, Prince of Darkness, and Dark on the Other Side and was highly impressed by the way she was able to impart so much information on everything from spiritual possession to contemporary witchcraft in compact little Gothic suspense novels. Like Shirley Jackson, Barbara Michaels never has to raise her voice.

Of course I am a long time admirer of Stephen King, though I no longer follow his career. I would have to name Douglas Clegg as one of my favorite writers in the genre. I have a love hate relationship with Anne Rice’s books. I found the Vampire series difficult to read and find the Mayfair Witches downright silly at times, but I admire her output and the way she single handedly revived a rather baroque style of Gothic storytelling and rode it to the top of the best sellers lists.

Outside of thrillers and contemporary fiction, I am a big fan of Charles Dickens. Look at how many fun and memorable characters he created, and some of his plot twist would put today’s writers to shame.

9. Tell us a little bit about one of your books.

Night of the Pentagram is set in Hollywood in 1968, a time of mini-skirts, ironing board straightened hair, and a flourishing interest in astrology and the occult. It was also a time of race riots, the Viet Nam War, and the Mansion Family murders. Elizabeth York is a young actress suffering from unexplained blackouts after her husband, film director Sven Lindstrom, was murdered by satanic cultists. In order to keep her contract on her current film project, Elizabeth agrees to be committed to the Abernathy Clinic, an experimental sanitarium which caters exclusively to Hollywood and other high profile celebrities. Elizabeth soon finds herself caught up in a tangled web of pot smoking, séances, unexpected romance, experimental drugs, and mystery as one by one the lives of the other patients at the clinic come to bloody and horrifying ends.

If you want to stay current on Barrymore's writing projects, find his fan page on Facebook: Barrymore Tebbs


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