I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to interview Allison a couple of times now through her talented contributions to the Wrapped in Series for Sekhmet Press. Allison M. Dickson writes dark contemporary fiction, covering both speculative and realistic realms.
Her debut psychological horror novel, STRINGS, released to rave reviews in 2013 and has topped Amazon’s bestseller lists several times. She is also the author of an abundance of short stories as well as the 1940s sci-fi noir Colt Coltrane series.
It’s been told that Allison likes to relax with a cold beverage, a game controller, and no pants! Way to Rock it Out, Allison 🙂
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? How’d that work out for ya?
I’m so boring. I wanted to be a writer! hahaha! But as a teenager, I did have brief dreams of being a journalist and a chef. I still think about going into culinary arts, actually. But then there was the time I wanted to be a political campaign strategist.
I love the study of politics in an academic sense, but then I realized how much I valued my soul, and selling it to politics at rock bottom prices was a surefire way to make myself miserable. Being a writer ended up fulfilling all of my wishes to do all the things I’ve wanted to do and then some, because I can create characters who can do those things, and experience their mindspace at the same time.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There is a lot going on in THE LAST SUPPER. Sentient weeds, people with other-worldly powers, and a lot of tragedy. But I think the message lies mainly in the discovery of the truth about the world around you, the process of peeling back all those layers to get to the truth, and how it’s important to not let it drive you mad.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Writing is a craft and a process. It takes time to develop your craft, and the process never really stops. Don’t ever get comfortable, and don’t go into this thing thinking it’s an easy cash grab. Nothing about it is easy, but if you love it enough, you can fool people into thinking it is.
What about the horror genre interests you? Disgusts you?
I feel there are few genres that invigorate the spirit more than horror, at least when it’s done right. It gets the blood pumping, the thoughts racing, the endorphins flowing. It’s like getting a tattoo, only on your brain.
It only disgusts me when people cheapen it by going for the easy scares without giving us characters we can care about. This is largely why I live in the painful dichotomy of loving horror while being disappointed by most of it.
What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
Such a wide and varied soundtrack, that. But I think I’ll go with the first day my husband went back to work after our first child was born. She was a week old and I was all alone with her, and about 1000% certain I was going to break her. She’s thirteen now, and a great kid, so I must have done something right.
Indeed! Every first mom’s nightmare! 🙂
Do you look to your own phobias to find subject matter? Are your stories the products of nightmares, childhood experiences, fantasies?
I don’t have too many phobias, thankfully, and the ones I do have (bugs) are so easily exploited that I couldn’t see going there more than once. I did so in my story “Vermin,” but it wasn’t even the bugs I was attempting to explore.
The stuff I like to really dig into are abandoned old houses and buildings, feelings of isolation, secrets, and this sense there is always something that exists beyond our ability to perceive. And all of that probably does stem from some old nightmare, childhood experience, or fantasy.
I remember standing at the edge of a field behind our neighborhood when I was a kid and straining to imagine what it might be like to just run for the horizon and see what hidden things I could uncover. I suppose that’s what brings me back to the creative well over and over again. I’m looking for something. I don’t know what, but I figure if I never find out, that’s okay. The journey is always the best part.
I love that analogy!
What is one stereotype about horror writers that is absolutely wrong? What one stereotype is dead on?
The worst stereotype is that we’re weird or disturbed people, or that we somehow get off on the horrible situations we write about, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I find a lot of horror authors to be extremely sensitive people who are just looking for healthy ways to channel the same darkness and pain we’ve all experienced in our lives.
Some people paint peaceful landscapes or write uplifting stories. Others invert the process and try to expose the optimist that lives in us all by showing us what hell REALLY looks like. They’re also highly intelligent, witty, irreverent, and dead sexy. Well, sometimes. If we’ve remembered to shower, that is. If that isn’t a stereotype, then it should be.
Tell me how you feel being a woman has either enhanced or hindered your writing in the Horror genre. You mentioned how people have disdain for a woman to write such violent books. How does that make you feel? And what do you intend to do about it?
I sometimes wonder, if I’d known the disadvantage women experienced not only in this industry as a whole, but particularly in speculative genres like horror and sci-fi, would I have written under a male or androgynous pseudonym?
Because I have not only seen my fellow female authors sell exponentially more books when they write under male pseudos, but I have also experienced first hand a spectrum of emotions from people who, when they read my horror-thriller STRINGS, realize I am indeed a woman. They say things like, “I thought a man wrote this” or “What sort of woman writes these things?” Phrases so blatantly sexist they make me feel like I should be lacing a corset and taking laudanum for my menstrual cramps whilst lying upon my fainting couch.
It pisses me off, to put it plainly. And while the more fiscally hungry side of myself would have decided to play into this wrong and antiquated system by devising a pseudonym, there is an even larger part of me that just wants to put up both middle fingers and thrust my real name into the spotlight. Yeah, that’s right jerkholes, I wrote a violent, gory, visceral, scary as hell book that has made a lot of grown men squirm in their britches, and I ain’t going anywhere.
In fact, I have even more, so buckle your seat belts. The more of us do that, the more accepted and mainstream it will become, and the more we can obliterate this mindset that women only write romance, erotica, or flowery literature. There are so many women writing great horror and dark, gritty fiction, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. A woman wrote what is considered the first horror book, and she did it a century and a half ago, and she put her real name on the cover. If Mary Freakin Shelley can do it, so can the rest of us.
Sing it, Sista!
As a horror novelist – what is your end game? What is your goal?
I want to keep people up at night. I want them to be reading on their backlit Kindles or with their booklights on, and suddenly realize they need to turn on a lamp and maybe put on a nice, benign infomercial. I want to . . . Here, do this for me. Go to YouTube, type “Too Many Cooks” into the search, and watch the top video that comes up. Watch the whole thing. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean, but basically, what Too Many Cooks does to your brain is exactly what I want to do to your brain with my stories. I want you to put that book down at the end and go What. The. F**K. Because I know when a story does that to me, I never forget it. I couldn’t if I tried.
And of course … my signature question – What is something that truly frightens you and how do you deal with it?
That I’ll get to the end of my life and feel like I wasted it. The only way I can deal with it is to create. To leave a footprint. And I make that footprint with my words.
Please tell us what is on deck for you in 2015!!
Well, my agent hopes to sell my dark suspense novel KUDZU in the early part of the year, so fingers crossed I’ll have big news in the coming months on that. Additionally, I am going to be releasing the next book in my Colt Coltrane series, COLT COLTRANE AND THE STOLEN SKY.
If you like detective stories from the height of the pulpy noir era, but with robots and dieselpunk excitement thrown into the mix, I highly recommend folks check out the series. There are two stories out now, and #3 drops on 3/17. You can pre-order at Amazon now, but it will also be available in other formats and print.
(Link for the Colt Coltrane book if you want to hotlink it: http://www.amazon.com/Colt-Coltrane-Stolen-Sky-Book-ebook/dp/B00S2Z4AKG/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1421815330&sr=1-2)
Amazon profile: http://www.amazon.com/Allison-M.-Dickson/e/B0054DW57Y/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1