Interview with Jessica B. Bell
How long have you been writing? What inspired you to be a writer?
Oh, I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. I’ve loved reading my whole life – my parents read me Dr. Seuss and such before I could read on my own, but once I figured out how to read stories, I knew I wanted to tell some of my own. Whether or not I’ll ever be able to do it for a living, I know I’ll always have stories to tell.
What is the best horror movie you have seen? Worst?
I am a huge fan of 28 Days Later, and even the sequel, 28 Weeks Later is great. I also love Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, even with Keanu Reeves’ and Winona Ryder’s questionable English accents, or lack thereof (Gary Oldman redeems it all). The cinematography is phenomenal (those shadows moving by themselves were a nice touch) and the score is perfectly haunting. It came out when I was in high school, and I snuck out my parents’ car to go see it in the theater three nights in a row.
Every once in awhile, I come across a title on Netflix or Kodi that just begs to be seen, if only out of morbid curiosity. I found a movie once called The Shark Exorcist that was as bad as you think it was. Of course, I also think that there are a lot of mainstream, successful films that are just awful, but everyone has their preferences.
Why did you choose the horror genre?
I like weird things, and I like to try all sorts of different genres, but when I’m taking my writing seriously, I always seem to end up writing strange tales – not necessarily horror, but definitely strange. Like many of us, my parents read Stephen King, and when I was old enough, I started reading him, and Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. They were okay, but I wanted more, and so I started reading classics like Poe, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and of course, Dracula, Frankenstein, things like that. I like horror so much that I’m sort of a student of the genre. When I write, I’m very aware of the conventions and tropes that people are familiar with, and try to incorporate them into my own work.
When you want to be inspired, what do you use for inspiration?
Music, for the most part. Or I’ll go for a drive. I’ll dictate notes to my phone, which is great unless you accidentally reset your phone and lose all your notes.
Coffee or pizza?
Two of my favourite things, really, and both go great for breakfast, but if you’re talking about as a weapon (like, say, in the game of Clue), I’d go with a nice scalding cuppa joe. Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a Venti Americano.
Which story in Viscera is your favorite?
So, I have a few, of course, but two in particular spring to mind (this time you ask me, anyway – ask me again tomorrow and I’ll give you a different answer). Paraxenogenesis, or, What Alice Found There is the completed version of a story I’ve been trying to write since I was about 15 years old. It’s changed completely, of course, but the crux of it was a nightmare I had as a kid. The other story is the title story, Viscera, about which I initially had reservations. More than any other story in the collection, this was the one that I sent out for beta-readers to give feedback on. The story itself is a bit of chicanery, and I wanted to make sure I pulled it off successfully, and that I wasn’t being obtuse. But I didn’t absolutely love the story until I had a reader come to me in tears, saying how much the story had moved her. She’d seen the metaphors in the story that others had missed, and when you connect with a reader like that, well, there’s nothing better.
What theme do you enjoy writing about? Space, aliens, zombies, death etc etc?
Yes. Actually, it’s strange. I don’t usually like writing about space or aliens, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t. Ridley Scott’s Alien is, in my opinion, the best sci-fi horror movie ever – and Giger’s creature (as well as his other art) was hugely influential, not only on my nightmares, but in my stories as well, particularly Paraxenogenesis. I like writing about broken characters trying to make their way through unusual situations. I really like writing about cults, strange gods, human sacrifice, ancient rituals, and the like. My upcoming novel, CHUK, deals with all of those, and a swamp monster to boot.
You have a story about alien abduction in this collection, do you believe they are real?
I, ahem, want to believe.
What is a scary night / nightmare you can’t forget?
One year on Halloween night, a friend (I use the term loosely) took me to an old, unfinished tunnel that went halfway under the Welland Canal. There was a ghost story attached to the place, of course – some legend about a spurned lover who accidentally stumbled into the tunnel and dropped her lantern, burning herself to death. We went into the tunnel, in the dark, and my friend’s flashlight batteries conveniently died. So of course, we had to resort to flicking our lighters to light the way, but even that was short-lived, as our thumbs began burning. At some point, my friend stopped walking as I continued toward the back of the tunnel. We were so far in that if I turned back, the opening of the tunnel was only about the size of my fist. It was about then that my friend decided to tell me the rest of the legend – that if you lit a match at midnight, the sight of the fire would cause the ghost to scream. Well, we didn’t see a ghost, but when my friend lit a match, blew it out, and began to scream, I may or may not have ran so hard toward to the open end of the tunnel that I knocked her over and together, covered in mud and laughing, we stumbled our way back out into the night air, where I gave her hell for scaring me so.
Cats or dogs?
Either is good if prepared correctly. But you mean… anyway, I like cats but I don’t trust them. Something inherently evil about them. Dogs are great companions, but they’re dumb as dirt.
What made you want to do a collection of short stories?
I’ve been writing short fiction for years now, in between bigger ideas. Even if I was working on a novel, there would be ideas that came that were smaller. I was given a tattered copy of Night Shift by Stephen King when I was a teenager, and between that and a collection called Sandkings by George R.R. Martin, I fell in love with the short story format. I hope that readers will get a taste for my writing with these small chunks as an appetizer, and hunger for more.
I saw that there is a poem in the collection. I liked it… and woah by the way… What made you decide to include it?
There are actually a couple of poetic works in the collection, but if you are referring to A Visit to the Doctor, then I’m glad you liked it. I love the ambiguity of what’s actually going on in the poem. A lot of my writing uses normal, everyday occurrences (like going to the doctor) and juxtaposes them with something twisted. The result is something quite horrific.
***Editor’s Note: I was talking about A Visit to the Doctor and Woah… I loved it.
Last question: What should we be looking out for in the future from you?
2017 should bring at least two new books – CHUK is my first full-length novel, and is currently being edited for publication – and I am working with a handful of other writers to finish Incarnate, the third and final book in the meta-fictional Jessica series. I’m also working on a book cycle called The People of the Manatii. The first book is already written, and the second is brewing.
Jessica B. Bell is a Canadian writer of strange fiction. It is rumoured that she lives in a damp, dark basement, writing her twisted tales in her own blood on faded yellow parchment. Her stories have been published in various anthologies, the most recent of which is Voices. She also writes under the name Helena Hann-Basquiat, and has published two novels on the metafictional topic of Jessica B. Bell, titled Jessica and Singularity. A third and final novel is planned for 2017.
Find more of Jessica’s (and Helena’s) writing at whoisjessica.com