Interview with J. Lincoln Fenn, author of POE, and GIVEAWAY

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN FOLKS

In case you hadn’t heard, earlier this year, a little horror novel called POE won the Amazon Breakthrough Contest this year! Today, I have author J. Lincoln Fenn telling us all about it.

After you read the interview, type in the comments below with your SCARIEST HAUNTING STORY (preferably real) that has happened to you or a friend or that you heard through the wilds of the interweb and I will send you AN E-COPY OF POE! Winners announced Nov 2, so you have until Nov 1 to enter! 

Blank white book w/path1)   So tell us more about your debut “Poe” and how it won the Amazon Breakthrough Contest this year! How did you go about coming up with the concept?

It’s really a mix of concepts influenced by my life. I’ve experienced horror, I’ve been haunted, I’ve seen things that can’t be explained away by science.  But I can’t ditch my own doubt. A Tibetan lama loved to tell a story about how he’d perform dharma ceremonies in the houses of his Western students, and here they are all chanting in unison to conjure a deity, but no one believes it. Then they’d freak out when cabinet doors started opening and shutting on their own. He thought it was hysterical – like, What did you think would happen? Dimitri embodies my doubt, and his character really drives the narrative. He attends a séance he thinks will be a waste of time, but it’s the inciting incident that changes his life. Things he thinks are random prove to be mysteriously connected. He comes to a realization I envy.  I’m like Mulder – I want to believe.

 

2)   When you set out to write about Poe, what sort of research did you do? Just how much about Poe did you have to know to write the book?

Yeah, about that….I can’t give away too much without dropping a spoiler, but the novel isn’t about Edgar Allen Poe. It definitely has that gothic vibe, but let’s just say I did quite a bit of research into Russian occultism in the early 21st century.

 

3)   Was “Poe” the first novel you wrote? Do you have other WIP your working on now?

Poe was my first completed novel, but I had plenty of false starts before it. Like many beginning writers, I looked to what was popular and tried to write that. Then I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, and he said write what hasn’t been done. Of course when I did that, agents loved it because it was different but had no idea where to sell it. Poe is horror, but it’s also dark urban fantasy, includes a new adult/coming-of-age arc with paranormal mystery elements, all wrapped up in a sardonic, first-person narration. Everyone wanted me to choose a shelf, but I couldn’t write it any other way. Considering Poe won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award this year for Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror, I’m glad I stuck to my guns.  Currently I’m working on a sequel to Poe.

 

4download)   What about your critique partners? What can you tell other queriers about why they need critique partners and what it takes to be a good one?

It’s a strange thing, but when you’re up close and staring at each word in your novel, it’s hard to see it as a whole. It took me four months to write the first draft, but easily double that on revisions.  You need to have people you can trust reading your work, and if you hear some kind of consensus, be open to changes. Poe had a much, much darker ending and an extra 100 pages. I cut many passages that I loved to make it work better as a novel. If you’re acting as a critique partner, be honest but give specific feedback. Don’t just say, “I didn’t like this chapter.” Think about what would make it better, like “the dialogue here just dragged.”

 

5)   What’s the hardest thing about writing horror? What are some common misconceptions for writers interested in trying the genre?

Horror can be daunting – it’s a genre that has iconic, masterful, successful authors and just the thought of tossing your hat into that ring is incredibly intimidating.  It feels like trying to climb Everest when all you’ve got is a backpack, a box of matches, and pluck. But we can all find the kernels of life that scare the bejesus out of us, and write to that. With Frankenstein, Shelley was horrified by electrical experiments being conducted on dead flesh. That horror translated to her time, and ours.

 

6)   What was the most exciting part of working on your novel? The hardest?

The most exciting part was discovering the story as it gradually surfaced. I had a general baseline of a plot, but all the details were completely organic.  I chose the name Dimitri because I liked it, but then that meant he was of Russian origin, then when I wrote in his father, he had an accent, which surprised me.  Later I found a connection between the name Dimitri and another famous Russian, which added a major dimension to the plot. The hardest part was fitting all the pieces together at the end. I had to let go of some, re-write others to fit the most compelling story arcs. It was like putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle.

 

7)   Last but not least, I ask every interviewee to share a scary story. What is the scariest thing you’ve ever experienced? How does it inspire you to write dark tales?

Well…I saw the shadow of a demon once. Not even remotely kidding – horns, the works. I was in a basement, and there wasn’t anything down there which could even cause a shadow like that. I don’t know what to make of it, but moments like that make me think that there’s something unexplainable pressing into what we call reality.  Norman Mailer called writing a ‘spooky’ art, and dark tales are the spookiest of the spooky arts, because we play where our greatest fears are. ‘Dark’ is equated with ‘bad’ or ‘evil’, but really, it’s just the unknown. For a curious person, that’s the only place to be.

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3 thoughts on “Interview with J. Lincoln Fenn, author of POE, and GIVEAWAY

  1. Well, we had a helpful spirit in our house in NH. It was built in 1786 by a man who served under Geo Washington. He returned from the war and built our house as a tavern and an inn. He was the unofficial mayor of the town until his death in the 1830s. We moved in in the 1990s and were there for 13 or 14 years. We did a good deal of work to bring the house back to its colonial character and think he liked it. Whenever something was missing or broken, we would yell, “Moses, where is that hammer?” or “Moses, can you get that window to open?” It would never happen in front of us but somehow the item would always be returned or fixed — even when we were away on vacation.
    The one time I was frightened was one Halloween night when I was 18 or 19. A group of friends and I decided to go down to the old abandoned cemetery by the lake. This was in the middle of nowhere. The road to get there was not only dirt, it was rutted and covered in roots and rocks. Clingy tree branches draped over the track and skittered across the roof of the car. At some point, the road became impassible and we walked the rest of the distance to the graveyard. Once there, we just sat and enjoyed the view. It was a clear night, we could see lights across the lake. The stars were almost unbearably bright. It was peaceful. It wasn’t until we turned to go back to the car that something… scared us. We were all uneasily laughing, trying to make light of the fact that here we were, scaring ourselves, on Halloween night. But our flashlights weak beams only lengthened the fingerlike shadows of the branches above. We quickened our pace, hoping to see the car around the next bend. Finally, a glint reflected back at us and my friend said, ” Wouldn’t it be weird if the car turned on and the headlights shined on us right now?” His off-hand remark suddenly felt like a very real possibility. We booked it for the car, certain we were being watched by something… We piled in, locked the doors and hoped the car would start. It did. But now we had to back out the entire length of the rough track — without headlights. I don’t know what was out there. It was something heavy and nervy that affected all of us, that was unable to reach us within the confines of the cemetery itself.

  2. When we were shown the apartment that we are now renting, it was a disaster. There were rice and beans moldering in a pot on the stove. One bedroom had some half-empty forties in it, a stained mattress on the floor, and one of those huge toddler-killing TVs; the other was full of old-lady clothes and had a ghost of a powdery sachet scent to it. We were told that the woman who used to live in the apartment could no longer take care of herself and so she had been moved to a nursing home. We still get mail for her sometimes—Florinda Comrie, a perfectly beautiful name—usually things from the Catholic Church or old lady magazines full of things like slankets, sticks with grabby ends for pulling up socks, and mysteriously disguised sex toys because, hey, grannies want to have orgasms too.

    Lately, though, I’m wondering if Florinda left so easily. Since we’ve moved into our apartment, we’ve been plagued with bad pipes. We’ve had a steam pipe burst twice in the kitchen—the same pipe—and the pipe in the bathroom burst once. Each time this has turned into an emergency where our maintenance guy has to shut down heat to the building, and we’re lucky nobody had been in the particular room when the pipe burst. This was the kind of steam heat that could flash-fry a cat or human, causing serious burns.

    The situation is starting to remind me of the ghost we left in Bushwick. When Kristi and I first moved to New York, we were on a strict budget and could afford only the bare minimum in rent, which still seemed like way too much for housing. We ended up with a largish, two-bedroom railroad apartment at 393 Bushwick Avenue, right across the street from the Bushwick projects. What we noticed right away was not so much the crime, but our strange entryway. The apartment door opened up into a dining room/kitchen and bathroom, and these rooms were strangely tilted. I guess this was a common New York phenomenon because a friend at work told me, “Wait until you bake a cake.”

    In the kitchen/bathroom area I noticed right away that things would tip over and move very easily. It wasn’t uncommon to be sitting in the kitchen sipping coffee and then hear a bang come from the bathroom. I’d go in and find all the shampoo and conditioner bottles tipped over or that the toothpaste had fallen off the sink. I always attributed this to the strange tilt of the front two rooms in the apartment. Sometimes the cats would come into the kitchen and just stare transfixed at the front door, as if they saw something there, and they would meow at nothing.

    Our old kitchen on 393 Bushwick Avenue.

    Once, not long after we moved in, two NYPD cops came to the door looking for the man who used to live there. They showed me his picture and gave me his name and asked me a lot of questions about our next-door neighbor, a skinny gay guy studying to be a teacher, who so did not fit the description of who they were looking for. After that, I noticed these large dents on the outside of our front door, as if somebody had been hammering on it, trying to beat the door down in order to get in. It really made me wonder who had lived there before us.

    So things continued to move around in the front rooms of our apartment, especially if me or my sister were agitated, but I blamed this on the tilt and the idea that once something starts to go wrong everything goes wrong. And then something really scary happened. Kristi had gone home to visit my family in Iowa, and I was staying in the apartment all by myself. I stayed up until midnight, and then went to bed. There was nothing unusual about this—it was my typical workday routine. I was lying in bed about to drift off to sleep when I heard footsteps above me from the ceiling. Our apartment was on the top floor, but there was access to the roof from a skylight in the stairwell, so I thought it was one of the neighbors. A little annoying, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

    I turned over and tried to sleep again, but then I heard a woman screaming, “Stop it! Stop it! Don’t come near me!” I really freaked out and ran out to the stairwell to see what in the hell was going on. There was nothing there. I walked over to the skylight that allowed access to the roof and saw that it was closed and padlocked. Once I was back in the apartment, I piled chairs and every other bit of available furniture in front of the door. In the morning I laughed at myself and chalked the whole thing up to an overactive imagination.

    It was after Kristi got poked by the ghost that we realized we had something going on in the apartment. We were watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy in our kitchen when Kristi said, “Ow!” and started looking around.

    “What?” I asked.

    She said something poked her and thought it was one of the cats, but they were nowhere around.

    Soon after that, Kristi had a dream. She said that in the dream she was an abused Latina woman, and she went into our bathroom where she saw herself in the mirror. The bathroom was painted a pale blue and pink, and it was her favorite room in the apartment because it locked and she could get away from the man who was abusing her. Kristi thought that this woman was our ghost, and if the bathroom was painted the same as how she remembered it, maybe the ghost wouldn’t be so upset and would stop poking and moving things.

    I’m not crazy about baby blue and pink but I do love the Virgin of Guadalupe, so Kristi said she would paint the bathroom with a Virgin of Guadalupe theme. Kristi had to scrape the paint on the door frame to get down to the original wood, and she called me over to take a look shortly after she started. There, under layers and layers of white paint, she had found the original colors of the bathroom—a baby blue and pink in almost the exact shades that we had picked out for redecorating.

    Kristi’s Virgin of Guadalupe mural in our bathroom at 393 Bushwick Avenue.

    After Kristi painted her masterpiece, we did notice a decrease in objects moving around, but every once in a while the ghost would make her presence known, almost as if to say, “Hey guys, I’m still here!”

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