Mimi A. Williams on Horror Writing

by Mimi A. Williams

Beautiful Monster, the story of a serial killer and his stalking of one of his victims, came about as a way to take a break from other writing projects. I had been mentoring a student of mine, Jared Anderson (Alistair Cross) who’d become a good friend, and we’d spent the better part of six months crafting his first novel. During the same time, I’d been working on two different novels of my own. The idea of working on a book together seemed like a nice way to take a break and share the load.

My initial idea was the story of a medieval priest possessed by a demon and the young girl who falls in love with him. Jared liked the idea of the girl falling in love with the demon, but he wasn’t too keen on writing the historical aspect. We let the idea float around for a bit, brainstorming on other alternatives that kept the same storyline at the core. He had been doing a lot of research on serial killers, a subject that I had a great deal of interest in as well, and we started looking at possible storylines using a young girl who somehow falls for a very evil guy.

We both liked the idea, but we wanted to make absolutely sure the characters were believable. We asked a lot of questions, bouncing back and forth in almost a Socratic method. How does this guy hide openly in society? What does he do that makes him a successful killer? Why would a normal, healthy young woman fall for this guy? What makes her appealing to him as a victim? How will she survive – IF she survives? We would work together to identify character traits, to talk through interactions, and to develop the storyline that looks at each character individually  before bringing them inevitably closer to their fates.

Our process became a comfortable pattern: Jared wrote the first chapter, sent it to me for comments, and then I sent it back and started on chapter two. I’d finish my chapter, send it off for Jared’s comments, and then he would start on chapter three. It took us less than six months to write the book this way. At times, I’d have to stop midway through a chapter to run lines of dialog past Jared that involved his character, and he would do the same with mine.  The day I finished writing the last chapter, I was also helping Jared pack his house to move three states away! As we drove, I read the chapters out loud, and we made corrections as we went along. All the revisions were done living three states away from each other.  We sent copies off to a few trusted beta readers, and with their feedback, we would coordinate on Skype to make the necessary changes. I was in charge of sending out the queries, but it was Jared who came across Damnation Books, the publisher who ultimately accepted our manuscript.

I’ve coauthored one other book, an adult nonfiction that is now out of print, and Jared has coauthored a few others with Tamara Thorne (under the name Alistair Cross). There are some very important considerations when choosing whether or not to collaborate with another writer. First, you’d better have a strong foundation to your friendship and a really good sense of humor, because it’s guaranteed to get stressful as you go along. Another consideration is being able to compromise. If you want your book to be your way, then do it by yourself. Jared brought some exceptionally good ideas to the table. He wrote an amazing character who is two parts evil, one part charm, one part utter psychopath. He put some aspects of the book in place that I would never have considered, and it is stronger as a result. If I hadn’t been willing to listen to his suggestions and apply them, the book wouldn’t have been as powerful as it is. I become a stronger, more diverse writer as a result of this process, and I’m proud to this day of the result.

Will I ever collaborate again? I don’t know. It would take the right person, the right situation, and the right story for me to consider it. It was the perfect storm for Beautiful Monster, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that lucky again. But, stranger things have been known to happen!

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YumMimi A. Williams is the coauthor of Beautiful Monster, a novel about a charming serial killer and his innocent victim. She has also had a variety of short stories published, including “Rita” in the Axes of Evil 1 anthology, “The Groupie” in the Axes of Evil 2 anthology, and “The Lamb on the Tombstone” in the Old Scratch and Owl Hoots anthology (coming in 2015). Mimi holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and she has taught college English and Creative Writing for 18 years. When it comes to horror, Mimi loves old school: Edgar Allen Poe, the original “Halloween” movie, and the classics with Bella Lugosi, Lon Cheney, and Boris Karloff. Despite her love of horror and all things dark and scary, she is actually a very sweet person who loves her pets (three kitties and a dog) and her adorable grandson. https://www.facebook.com/m.a.williams.1214

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