A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in over forty anthologies and magazines, and she has two horror collections out: Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations and Bruised Souls & Other Torments. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster.
Shannon is a wonderful writer and a terrific guest. We spoke of characters, writing, and cheesy horror comedies.
NTK: Welcome back to Chilling Chat, Shannon! Let’s talk about your collection of short stories called, Bruised Souls and Other Torments. How did you come up with the title for this collection?
SL: “Bruised Souls” was inspired by a Shakespeare quote from The Comedy of Errors.
“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we hear it cry;
But were we burdened with light weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.”
My dad died last year, along with a laundry list of other rough events, and “bruised souls” really spoke to me. In my first collection, I used the title of one of the stories (Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations), and I’d intended to do that this time, but I kept returning to those two words. There were so many bruised souls in the book that it seemed pertinent. Since I’d already broken my established way of naming a collection, I figured I’d keep the same idea for the second part, and “Torments” fit so well.
NTK: Which story in the collection is your most favorite and what inspired it?
SL: Such a hard question! I think the opening story, “Stuck With Me,” is my favorite story in the collection. It’s much quieter than my usual horror (as are several of the other stories), and it sprang from a real-life incident that horrified me to think of. (I can’t say what that incident was, because it would give away the twist.) Part of why I look at it fondly is because I got to read it to a crowd at a Women in Horror Month event, and people reacted at the right parts. When the twist comes, I not only heard it in the form of gasps, but I FELT the change in the room in people’s movements. It was such a cool moment!
NTK: Are you a pantser or a plotter?
SL: I’m a bonafide pantser. I’ve tried to plot, really I have, but the story only flows for me when I’m actively writing it as I go.
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
SL: My characters pretty much have free will. Sometimes I really really really need them to do something in order for something else I thought of to happen, so I have to rough them up a bit. Sometimes they still resist, and I just have to go with it and let them lead me somewhere else.
NTK: Are any of your characters based on a real person?
SL: Sometimes, though rarely. I usually think of the character and develop them as I go. A couple have been inspired by someone real, such as the characters in “Stuck With Me,” who are loosely based on real-life historical figures. “Your Mother’s Eyes” is based off my mom caring for my dad through his 6 1/2 years with ALS, though the story is flipped (the father is the caretaker), and it’s not ALS. So while the characters aren’t at all based on real people, a smidgen of the real caretaking situation (one’s dedication to their loved one) is based on something real. To be very clear, the rest of the story isn’t, and I wrote it while my dad was still alive. (I feel like people will understand my needing to make a disclaimer if they read the story.)
NTK: What inspired the story, “Dearest?”
SL: I was on a weird kick of twisting love in my stories for some reason. I decided it would be fun to write a love letter with a twist that people [hopefully] didn’t see coming right away. I wanted it to be a gradual realization, and then for it to get consistently worse. A lot of the stories in this collection were experiments of various types. I wanted to try different sorts of stories, but also different styles of writing.
NTK: What’s your favorite cheesy horror comedy?
SL: Oh my goodness, I love cheesy horror comedies! My favorite would probably change, depending on the day, but a recent funny discovery was Hell Baby. I don’t remember ever seeing trailers for it, but it popped up on Shudder under horror comedies, so I gave it a try. Worth it. All the actors are funny, but the two who stand out are actually side characters: Keegan-Michael Key and Kumail Nanjiani (his character doesn’t even have a name, just “Cable Guy,” but I laughed so hard at one of his scenes, and actually start laughing in preparation for the scene on each subsequent viewing.) It’s basically a comedy version of Rosemary’s Baby (without the scheming friends/family).
NTK: Do you have a favorite horror actor? If so, who and why?
SL: Oh, so many! I’ve recently become enamored of Tom Savini. Before then, he’d just been Sex Machine from From Dusk Til Dawn, but then I started noticing him in other roles. Finally, the big epiphany: he was the mastermind behind so many low budget horror special effects in movies. The more I learn about him, the more fascinating he is. Shudder briefly had a documentary about him called Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini, which I recommend to anyone interested in special effects and horror.
Having said that, Robert Englund and Tony Todd will always be favorites. I adore them, and love that they still pop into various horror films with bit parts and cameos. Sometimes just voices, but I know those voices the moment I hear them. And ever since discovering her in Ginger Snaps and American Mary, I’ll watch anything Katharine Isabelle is in. Ginger Snaps led the way in coming-of-age horror tales for females (something mainstream films rarely touched on), and she was a big part of that. Plus, snarky wins me over every time.
NTK: What’s your favorite curse word?
SL: Depends on which language. In English, it will always be the F-bomb. It has the best impact when I need it, and can be cathartic to say. But in French and Spanish it’s shit, because they’re so much fun to say. Especially an angry sounding “merde,” which absolutely must be said with a heavy French accent. The Spanish “mierda” is almost as fun, but it’s not as sneery as merde, when said correctly.
NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
SL: I’m doing a chapbook on dark love with fellow Denver HWA members, without an official release date right now. I’m also putting together a solo collection of winter holiday-themed horror stories, with the intention of having that out in late October, just in time for the holidays. The first story written for it is titled “Deck the Halls with Guts & Madness.” Tra lalalala-lala-la-la. And I’ll have a story in a bundle that’s dark fantasy instead of horror, but I mixed fairy mythology with Native American folklore in an experiment that was fun to try out, and touches on two parts of my ancestry (though the main character is not the same tribe as me–it’s set in pioneer days in Colorado, so she is Ute.)
For non-writing stuff, I’m in the process of putting together an author interview series that will be available on video and as a podcast, plus an unsolved mysteries-type podcast with a partner. Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon!
NTK: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, Shannon.
SL: Thank you.