An Interview With Lisa Mannetti

Our Featured author for episode 132 of the HorrorAddicts.net podcast is Lisa Mannetti. Lisa writes what I like to call historical horror fiction. Recently she talked to us about her work:

What is your story for episode 132 about?

Stoker_NomineeI will be reading from The Box Jumper, my stand-alone novella about Houdini which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Awards and won “Novella of the Year” from This is Horror. The protagonist or narrator is Leona Derwatt, a former “box jumper” i.e. assistant to the great magician himself. Thirty years after Houdini’s death, she says she’s going to reveal his secrets about the paranormal—but is she telling the truth? Leona was in love with Houdini and she helped him debunk fraudulent Spiritualists, but in the present (1956 in the novella) she’s trying to guard herself from telling a shady medium/magician named Emory the real source of Houdini’s powers. As the book progresses, we (as readers) realize she’s been drawn into a dangerous situation with Emory and two of his cohorts that is more nefarious than she ever imagined. The novella’s five parts and main structure follow the five classic symptoms of demonic take-over—from “invitation” to “summoning” to “obsession” through “infestation” and finally, “possession.” Has Leona been “invaded” and overcome by dark forces? Or is she merely a tragic, lonely figure who’s fallen prey to madness? Terrifying and poignant, the novella delves into the darker side of a broken woman who worshipped an immensely charismatic public figure—and maintains—was loved by him in return.

When did you start writing?

I first started writing when I was eight years old—and the very first story I dwatch 277x419wrote (that wasn’t an assignment from one the nuns who taught at my school) was a psychological tale about vampires. Sounds pretty sophisticated, right? It wasn’t though. It turns out my parents were going crazy because I had night terrors and I was keeping the entire household awake night after night. When I wrote the story, my mother read the “Twilight Zone” ending I’d tacked on which was that the girl’s frightening nightmares and dreams were actually triggered when her mother came in each every evening to kiss her while the child was asleep and resulted in her bolting upright and screaming an hour or two later. This goodnight ritual was my mother’s routine because she was going for an advanced degree from NYU and by the time she got off the train and came home, I was already in bed, asleep. The great thing from my parents’ point of view was that by writing about it, I saved them megabucks at the psychiatrist they were just about to drag me to. The important thing for me was that if you let your subconscious run, great stories (not this one, necessarily) can happen. And sometimes it doesn’t matter if truths about the author emerge—I mean unless you have my mother as your first reader, chances are excellent you won’t know what the hell you’re revealing and won’t have to feel embarrassed.

What are your favorite topics to write about? 

I really like writing about the dark side of life. Disease and disfigurement are prominent themes. I’ve written about polio, glanders (a disease that afflicts horses but can also spread to humans), radiation poisoning, and a host of other terrible ailments. In fact, I think one of the reasons the door to my imagination opens wider when I set the stories in the past is because the medical treatment was so abysmal compared to today’s standards that disease (of all kinds) was more part and parcel to everyday life. I like to write about the things that “seize” us mentally or physically and force us to cope with what’s beyond our control. I also like to write about the changes a disease has—not just on our bodies—but on our psyches. Both disease and possession/manipulation in my work are metaphors (ultimately) for the things around us we can’t control—those profoundly painful moments each of us face in life. We all encounter deep disappointment, death of loved ones; harrowing circumstances that make us question ourselves and the world around us. I like to write about that nexus—the things that impact our lives and create permanent change in our bodies, minds and hearts.

Who or what inspires you?

I think a lot of my stories are still attempts to reckon with the fact that we all die someday. Because my mother was a nurse (later a public health director) we had plenty of medical-type textbooks around the house and the pictures and the diseases both fascinated and terrified me. From fourth through seventh grade, for example, I was obsessed and phobic about getting leprosy. It sounds funny now, but I really did worry about it to the point I was getting up in the middle of the night to check and see if my palms were turning yellow or if I’d lost feeling in my feet. The Catholic nuns were big on discussing it back then (and collecting money to send to leper colonies) and there was plenty to read in the school library about notable figures like Father Damien. The big thing about him, as I recall, is that during one Sunday sermon he began speaking about the affliction “we” lepers endure and that was the hint to the rest of the colony that he’d joined their little weeping sore club. There were also tons of books in each classroom that dealt with the lives of the martyrs—all of whom died gruesome, miserable deaths. (Everything from being shot with arrows, to roasted over coals, to thrown to lions) and between those books and my mother’s handy pictorial guides, disease became a lifelong fascination for me. I didn’t really move to the next level—how it impacts our personalities—until I was in my late twenties and diagnosed with a benign pituitary tumor that turned out to be no big deal. But, while I was at the doctor’s office, I saw a woman about my age who was not only disfigured, but completely miserable. Don’t get me wrong. I had the utmost sympathy for her, and it was abundantly clear she was suffering. It was also obvious that she couldn’t help snapping and being somewhat nasty to people around her because her life had been utterly ruined by her disease. It was terrifying to me to contemplate—not just the havoc and devastation the disease wrought on her physically—but how her mind and heart had given way and succumbed, too. Years later I read Pet Cemetery and realized Stephen King was probing the same idea when he depicts what Rachel went through on account of her crippled sister.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

Tom and Huck adult 2014Well, one thing that strikes me—as both a reader and a writer—is that the genre has both suffered and gained from a schizophrenic perception of its merits and faults. The first gothic supernatural novel, The Castle of Otranto written by Horace Walpole in 1764 (which was both enormously popular and truly awful) claimed to be drawing on the works of Shakespeare. In my personal opinion the only thing Walpole really has in common with the bard derives from what I consider one of Shakespeare’s more preposterous works: Titus Andronicus. Castle includes some pretty laughable scenes including one where a giant helmet falls out of the sky, and Titus has a lot of over-the-top action, too—his daughter, Lavinia, enters at one point carrying her father’s severed hand between her teeth. Sure, there were and are some terrible horror novels—just as there are in any genre and in mainstream books as well. As a reader and a writer, I find it both fascinating and wonderful that authors like Stephen King and Peter Straub and Shirley Jackson (and many others—too numerous to mention) completely legitimized and elevated horror—and it’s a pleasure to be able to write serious, literary works in their wake. Without their achievements, horror would be consigned to remainder tables, beach reads, and scrap heaps for the most part. The general public seems to have difficulty in making the imaginative leap or transitional analysis that (for example) makes them aware that a book like William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice or a play like Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer are fraught with horror—and that many of us draw upon the same kinds of important themes when we write.

Could you tell us about 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover?

It started as a little joke to amuse myself, then P.D. Cacek suggested I find an illustrator and she introduced me to the wonderful and wonderfully talented Glenn Chadbourne. 51 Fiendish Ways is a macabre gag book of mostly one-liners about the nasty side of breaking up. There may be copies here and there, but alas it’s pretty much out of print. The good news is that sometime in what I hope will be the near future, Glenn and I are going to reissue the book with new cover art, a new introduction, etc. I’ve always been drawn to dark satire—it’s a skewed perception of a situation—just as horror the “overlay” used by horror writers.

This is a small video trailer of 51 Fiendish Ways for your enjoyment.

Could you tell us more about The Gentling Box?

Although it wasn’t the first novel I wrote, it was my “debut” novel and I was thrilled beyond measure when it won the Bram Stoker Award.

The book is set in 19th century Hungary and Romania and its protagonist (who is suffering from a fatal disease), Imre, a half-gypsy horse trader; his immediate family; and his close circle of friends have all been duped by his wife’s mother, a sorceress named Anyeta whose goal is to gain personal power and to throw off a curse that will condemn her to being eternally awake and aware in her own grave. But, the only way to make an end of Anyeta and to grant her victims peace is gentling—a crude surgery performed on wild horses in order to tame them. Imre’s most hellish childhood memory is witnessing his father opening the crate-like gentling box and placing the wooden and leather devices around the heads of a herd of wild horses. Jutting inward from the circular bands are metal spikes which penetrate the horses’ brains and Imre cannot forget the sight of the blood or, more sorrowful still, the dimming of intelligence in the horses’ huge glossy eyes. Despite his trade, he has never gentled a horse—nor can he bring himself to face the ironic fact that in order to free Anyeta’s human victims, he must gentle them. His decision, then, is whether he can summon the courage to heal himself of his disease by claiming the curse known as the hand of the dead, knowing that once he does so, he must also ultimately face the terror and the freedom of the gentling box.

Here’s the trailer from the second edition:

N.B. The book is currently in its third edition (with wonderful cover art by Steven Gervais) published by NightScape Press and available from Amazon and other online retailers.

It seems like a lot of your work is a mix of historical fiction and horror, Do you have a favorite time period to write about and how long does it take you to research a book before you write it?

gbox+280x419My background (actually my graduate degree and half my Ph.D.) is in 18th and 19th century English Literature; but this is a sort of chicken vs. egg situation since I’m not sure which actually came first. I’ve always been drawn to that period and it seemed like a natural fit when I began writing fiction. That said, I’ve set books and stories in 16th century Scotland, the late 19th and early 20th century in America, as well as in the present. I find that the past often opens the door imaginatively for me and I often write in the first person because it’s a natural and immediate identifier for the reader. Unconsciously, the reader accepts and becomes one with the narrator and therefore finds it easier to slip into the past as present.

It depends on the story or book; but six weeks for a story and six months of research for a book are pretty typical. I also continue to research as I write and will look up whatever I need: a street address, the name of a song, a diagnosis. It keeps the process very interesting to say the least and I select what I find mind-boggling so hopefully the reader will also get caught up in those details. While I’m writing a particular piece, I also watch any videos and read any other books I can find that touch upon the topic—it keeps me close to the lives my characters are experiencing and even unconsciously influences the subtle details of the tale. So, for example, when researching Houdini, I not only read all his written work and biographies about him and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and watched videos of his and Doyle’s films, I also read up on and watched anything I could find about mentalism, the Spiritualist movement, séances, magic, hypnotism, demons, 1920s New York City and Boston, mediums, and witchcraft. Plus a lot more that I can’t think of right off the top of my head.

What are some of the other books you have available?

YA Tom and Huck 547 x 819There are tons of my stories published in numerous well-edited anthologies that also include some other wonderful authors—so I can recommend them all without reservation. (Check out my Amazon Author page.) But, also available are my Stoker nominated stories, “The Hunger Artist” –which can be found in Zippered Flesh 2 (Smart Rhino Publications), and my short piece about Lizzie Borden, “1925: A Fall River Halloween” in Shroud Magazine #10. “Everybody Wins,” which was made into a short film starring Malin Ackerman (Bye-Bye Sally) is available in Uncommon Assassins. (Smart Rhino Publications).

Among my books (fiction) are The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (Smart Rhino) and Deathwatch, (NightScape Press) which is a collection of two related novellas, “Dissolution” and “The Sheila Na Gig.” “Dissolution,” which was nominated for a Stoker Award, is set in 1893 and will soon be a feature-length film directed by Paul Leyden. It’s the story of a young medical student who’s been expelled from university and finds himself in an isolated town in upstate New York where he learns that though he’s been ostensibly employed as a tutor to twelve-year old twins, their father has actually hired him as an assistant in an endeavor to separate them because they’re conjoined. “The Sheila Na Gig” is also set in the 19th century and concerns a young man and his dysfunctional family and his grandmother’s supernatural powers. Both novellas are very dark.

The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (Adult and YA editions) is a lighthearted tale in which Twain’s Tom and Huck have been reincarnated as twin white cats and familiars to a witch. They long to be boys again—scheming accordingly—and, as New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry writes in the introduction, “The novel is equal parts Mark Twain’s quaint and homespun humor and Mannetti’s sharp-as-a-razor modern-day wit…an adventure into the funhouse of intelligent imagination.”

Finally, “1925: A Fall River Halloween”; The Gentling Box, and The Box Jumper (April 2017) have all been translated into Italian.

Where can we find you online?

Just about everywhere! I’m also a member of the HWA and the Author’s Guild.

Websites:

www.lisamannetti.com

https://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Mannetti/e/B001HPT6J8/

http://lisamannetti.blogspot.com/

http://twitter.com/LisaMannetti

https://www.facebook.com/LisaMannetti.Writer/

https://www.pinterest.com/lisamannettiaut/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1978203.Lisa_Mannetti

The Chancery House:

www.thechanceryhouse.com (my virtual haunted house)

Lisa 2Lisa Mannetti’s debut novel, The Gentling Box, garnered a Bram Stoker Award and she has since been nominated four additional times for the prestigious award in both the short and long fiction categories. Her novella, “Dissolution,” will soon be a feature-length film directed by Paul Leyden.
In addition to The Box Jumper, her novella about Houdini which was nominated for both The Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Awards and won “Novella of the Year” from THIS IS HORROR, she has also authored The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; Deathwatch; a macabre gag book, 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave your Lover; as well as non-fiction books, numerous articles and short stories in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Recent and forthcoming works include “Arbeit Macht Frei” in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, “The Hermit” in Never Fear: The Tarot, and a novel about the dial-painter tragedy in the post-WWI era, Radium Girl.

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Linda Addison On Winning A Bram Stoker Award

Linda D. Addison is the award-winning author of four collections including How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend. She is the first African-American recipient of the HWA Bram Stoker Award® and has published over 300 poems, stories and articles. Linda is part of 7 Magpies, a film project involving 7 black female horror authors & filmmakers based on the old nursery rhyme. Catch her latest work in the upcoming anthology Scary Out There (Simon Schuster). Linda was kind enough recently to answer a few questions about winning the Stoker and her work in general:

How did it feel being the first Black Bram Stoker award winner?

2002 NYC Linda Mom First Stoker color2LA: It was mind-blowing experience (to quote a cliche). I literally was so excited to be on the final ballot with people who were my heroes that it didn’t occur to me that I would actually win. The awards were in New York City so my mother came up from Philly for the awards banquet. It was amazing to receive it and have my mother there (she passed in 2009). She was my biggest supporter and it meant everything to me for her to see this great honoring. I could barely speak. I did get it together enough to make my mother stand up and wave to everyone. It’s one of my happiest memories.

I didn’t realize then that I was the first Black award winner until someone bought it up and I looked back at the history of HWA Bram Stoker winners. One awesome thing that came out of winning was that my high school, Germantown HS, in Philadelphia asked me to speak at a graduation.

For what did you win the award for?

LA: I received the HWA Bram Stoker award® for “Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes”, a poetry collection published by Space & Time, with an introduction by one of my favorite authors, Charlee Jacob and cover by Colleen Crary, interior illustrations by Marge Simon.

When it came out I had the first book signing set for Sept 11, 2001 in Rockefeller Center in NYC. Yes, that day! I had the book propped up on my desk at my day job as a software developer. When that day came to an end I couldn’t even look at the cover. The first poem is called ‘Fire/Fight’, which I write years before 9/11 but suddenly was too relevant.

As NYC and I tried to find a new normal after the Towers were destroyed I slowly returned to my book. I was interviewed a couple of times about the book title and opening poem.

What is it about?

LA: It’s a poetry collection I put together around the concept of transformation after destruction. There are three sections titled: Things Gone Bad, In Between, Transformation. The poems cover many kinds of loss and transformation, for example: a mother mourning a lost child, a lover loss of self, a revengeful lover, even a human losing their soul to a Voodoo Goddess.

What other stories have you received nominations for?

LA: After “Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes” I was nominated for two collections that I wrote alone and won for both: “Being989336 Full of Light, Insubstantial”, which was 100 poems (Space & Time, 2007) & “How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend” a collection of short stories and poetry (Necon E-Books, 2011).

A collaborative collection, “Dark Duet” of music inspired poetry written with Stephen M. Wilson, published by Necon E-Books 2012, was on the final ballot. This was a very special collection for me. Stephen approached me with the project and I was excited to work with him because he did poetry that made shapes on the page and I wanted to try something different. We worked seamlessly together and I’m extremely proud of this book. Unfortunately, Stephen died from cancer in 2013.

My fourth HWA Bram Stoker award® was received in 2014 for “Four Elements” with Charlee Jacob, Marge Simon & Rain Graves, published by Bad Moon Book. The book has four sections for the four elements, Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Each of us picked an element, mine was Air which I wrote as a person who travels through time and space. I’ve known the other authors for years and it was a great honor working with them to create this collection.

When did you start writing?

LA: I would say I’ve spent my whole life making up fairy tales, poetry, etc. I started writing to see myself in print when I was in high school. I had a couple of poems published in my high school magazine. Once I got out of college I started seriously submitting work (and collecting a good number of rejections), eventually the rejections became acceptances around 1994.

What inspires you to write?

LA: Everything around me, the news, my past, my hopes for the future, all the positive and negative things that humans do to each other and the planet. I moved from NYC in 2014 to Arizona and went from a city kid to being surrounded by mountains and nature. The mountains  and desert have an overall settling effect on me which help me focus.

What advice would you give other writers?

13264877LA: Write, write, write. Write every day, even if only for a few minutes. I believe most writing happens in our subconscious so if we sit down each day the subconscious gets to know, ‘ah so I can show up now’ and it will pour out what it’s been mulling over.

Know that even when you’re not putting words on paper/computer you’re writing. Living is writing. Everything we do feeds creativity, even in the most un-obvious ways.

Don’t edit while writing first draft, just get it out. This is a rule I often struggle with because I know the quality I want, but I also know it’s important to write it from beginning to end and the editor mind doesn’t help that for me.

Read (all kinds of writing, even the kind you don’t do), listen to music, go to art shows. There is such energy from creating and it’s important to feed all the senses.

Once your work is as good as you can make it Send It Out! Don’t spend time wondering if it will be accepted or not, just get it out the house and start something new. If it comes back and you can make it better, do it. If you can’t make it better, Send It Out anyway. We writers are not the best judge of our work. For sure, your writing will get better the more you write, not necessarily rewriting the same piece.

What are some books that you have available?

LA: All of the books I mentioned above are available as print and/or eBooks. The links are on my website.

What are you working on now?17263849

LA: I had a story, “Twice, At Once, Separated”, published in the first Dark Matter anthology years ago, that I’m developing into a SF novel. The novel is a new form for me and I’m learning a lot about writing while tackling it.

The end of last year I started writing daily twitter poems (which also show up on my FaceBook page) just to get my poetry fix in each day. I write them with very little editing because I didn’t want to get off the novel track, but I really needed to get some poetry writing in.

Folks can check my site for updates on work that will be coming out this year, like poetry I will have in the upcoming “Scary Out There” horror anthology for young adults (Simon Schuster) edited by Jonathan Maberry, including work by fantastic authors like R.L. Stine, Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Golden, Lucy Snyder, Marge Simon, Nancy Holder and others.

I’m attending several events this year (see my site) and I will have work in the WHC 2016 souvenir anthology as well as teaching a poetry workshop at StokerCon.

Where can people find you online?

LA:

Website: www.lindaaddisonpoet.com

Facebook=Linda D Addison

Twitter=Linda Addison@nytebird45

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