Author Interview: Horror author Jeff Strand | My Pretties

Horror author Jeff Strand delves into the ugly darkness of a serial kidnapper with his latest book, My Pretties, a gripping novel filled with twists that get more twisted as the climax approaches.

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My Pretties is about a restaurant server named Gertie, who believes her cousin is the victim of a serial kidnapper. To try and save her, Gertie uses herself as bait and wanders the streets at night, hoping to lure the kidnapper into the open. When Gertie tells her co-worker Charlene how she spends her nights, Charlene agrees to trail her in a car as backup.

Of course, this is a Jeff Strand novel, so nothing goes according to plan, and the vigilante waitresses go from the hunters to the hunted.

Strand introduces readers to a sick, soulless man named Ken who abducts women and locks them in cages that hang from the ceiling in a soundproofed basement. Ken’s thrill is simply to sit quietly in the room and watch the women slowly starve to death. However, Ken is husband to a wife who wonders why he’s late all the time and father to a son who doesn’t respect him.

While Ken’s family dynamic provides most of the twists and some darkly comic moments, My Pretties is ultimately a grim tale of torture and survival.

Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand

In an exclusive interview for HorrorAddicts.net, Strand discusses My Pretties and what he thinks of a recent social media thread where people listed their top five Strand novels.

HORROR ADDICTS: Where did your idea for My Pretties originate?

STRAND: The process was similar to Mia and Rusty in Ferocious, where I had my lead characters (in this case, Charlene and Gertie) before I had a story to put them in. I’d written their meeting scene and not much else, and did nothing with it for a couple of years.

The idea of a serial killer who puts his victims in small cages dangling from a ceiling, giving them water but no food, watching them for hours at a time, came separately and much more recently. I pulled Charlene and Gertie into that idea and that’s where it became My Pretties.

HORROR ADDICTS: At some point, your villain Ken becomes the focus of the story more so than your heroines, Charlene and Gertie. Was that the idea from the start or did Ken just keep developing as you wrote the story?

STRAND: I changed some of the details as I wrote, but the broad strokes of the story were always there. I did try to be very conscious of keeping the balance — you get more of Ken’s story than you may have been expecting, but I didn’t want to tip the scales too far toward his side of things.

HORROR ADDICTS: Do you prefer writing villains more than heroes or vice versa?

STRAND: I don’t actually have a preference. It can be fun to write a really nasty villain, but I also enjoy writing likable heroes. Ken in My Pretties posed a bit of a challenge because he’s a complete garbage human being, and I didn’t want the reader to like him at all. He’s not Hannibal Lecter or Hans Gruber — he’s a piece of crap. So, he needed to be somebody who could convincingly persuade women to trust him a little, but I didn’t want him to be witty or charming or have any of those “the villain you love to hate” characteristics. Of course, my natural instinct is to try to write witty, clever dialogue, and I had to pull back on that for this guy.

HORROR ADDICTS: You’re active on social media, and I noticed a thread where readers were posting lists of their top five Jeff Strand novels. Where would you rank My Pretties among your 40-plus books?

STRAND: I love threads like that because there’s always a wide variety of titles represented. I’d hate for it to be, “Okay, here’s the one or two books that everybody likes, and then the rest.” It’s always fun to see something like Fangboy (which I always knew was going to be divisive, and I was correct) represented, or that people are championing The Sinister Mr. Corpse. It’s too early for me to rank My Pretties. What happens, 100 percent of the time, is that the book I wrote is not as good as the book I’d planned to write. There are no exceptions. So, no book is published with me thinking, “My God, this is my masterpiece!” It doesn’t take long for the Written Book vs. Book In My Head disparity to fade, but My Pretties is brand new.

HORROR ADDICTS: Dweller is my No. 1 Jeff Strand novel, but I was surprised when I read your personal top five and neither of your Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels, Pressure or Dweller, made your list. In fact, you said Blister and Cyclops Road flip-flop between your favorite. What makes those two novels resonate with you more so than your more traditional horror novels?

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STRAND: I almost never revisit my work after it’s published, so it’s possible that if I wiped my memory and read my entire backlist, the rankings would change. As it is, I’m going to naturally lean toward my most recent titles. I certainly don’t think every book is better than the last, but I do like to think that the last third of my output is better than the middle third, which is better than the first third, overall.

There’s just a lot of stuff I love about Blister. It’s a weird and quirky love story on top of a mystery on top of a horror story with lots of humor thrown in. Cyclops Road is a bigger story than I usually do (it’s my longest solo novel), and I really like the cast of characters. It’s got action, laughs, heartbreak, scares — I think it’s my most entertaining novel. I’m also partial to Bring Her Back, Sick House, and Kumquat.

If I asked all of my fans to rank their favorites, it’s safe to say that the No. 1 spot would go to Dweller. I’m proud as hell of that book. It just doesn’t make the list of my all-time favorites of my own work.

HORROR ADDICTS: Lastly, I always like to ask if you have any breaking Jeff Strand news for us Strand fans and Horror Addicts?

STRAND: Well, I just did a really dark psychological thriller, so I’m shifting tones with the next one. This one will be very blatantly horror/comedy and a lot of fun. Monsters are included.

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RELATED LINKS:

Horror Author Jeff Strand gets Ferocious in 2019

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

Horror Author Jeff Strand gets Ferocious in 2019

An Interview with Jeff Strand

Horror author Jeff Strand is already having a ferocious 2019 following a productive 2018, which featured five new releases from the four-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated writer.

ferocious.jpgStrand’s first new release of 2019 is the Kindle version of Ferocious, an action-packed novel about wild zombie animals on the prowl in a forest where Uncle Rusty and his teenage niece Mia live off the grid in a cabin.

Strand’s horror novels, Pressure and Dweller, earned Bram Stoker Award nominations, but the versatile author has also written young adult comedies, horror comedies, and even a romantic comedy.

Check out his website and ridiculously long bio here. Purchase the Kindle edition of Ferocious here.

Strand, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, agreed to an exclusive interview with HorrorAddicts.net about his new book and shares news on a couple of other future projects. He even answers the question if there will be a second Wolf Hunt sequel.

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HORROR ADDICTS: Undead animals? What sparked the idea for Ferocious?

STRAND: I had no story idea when I wrote the first chapter — I just liked the idea of this gruff, antisocial guy living in a cabin deep in the woods suddenly having a baby thrust upon him after his sister died. So, then it became, “Okay, what can go horribly wrong in their lives?” After much brainstorming, I settled on “zombie animals,” which isn’t a unique concept but certainly an under-utilized one.

HA: In the more than 40 books you’ve released, Uncle Rusty and Mia from Ferocious are two of my favorite characters that you’ve created. I love their relationship from the moment she asks her uncle, “Did you get the tampons?” Where would you rank them among your character creations? Do you like certain characters you create more than others?

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STRAND: It’s fun to write a really nasty villain like Darren in Pressure or Ivan in Wolf Hunt, but I’ll admit that it’s more fulfilling to create characters that the reader really likes. In a book that has “once it gets going it never stops” pacing, it was really important that you start rooting for these characters early on. I’m honestly not sure where I’d rank them. At gunpoint, forced to choose, I’d say that Kevin and Rachel from Blister are my favorite characters, followed closely by the heroes in Cyclops Road. I switched the order after I typed that the first time. Then I’d cheat and say that it’s a tie between Uncle Rusty and Mia, George and Lou from Wolf Hunt, Todd and Amy from Kumquat, Frank and Abigail from Bring Her Back, the family from Sick House, and Toby and Owen from Dweller. None of these are individual characters — I tend to like my own characters based on how they interact with each other.

HA: What actors should play Uncle Rusty and Mia if there’s a movie version of Ferocious?

STRAND: I never think of actors when I’m writing a book, and this question always has me going “Uhhhhh …” I truly don’t know. Hopefully, actors who are pleasant to work with and don’t lock themselves inside their trailer because their coffee was the wrong temperature.

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HA: Uncle Rusty lives off the grid in a cabin deep in the woods? Does that lifestyle appeal to you or are you one of those city slickers?

STRAND: There are flashes of it when I’m stuck in Atlanta traffic, but no, I’m a city guy.

HA: A story of undead animals run amok could go over the top and off the rails quickly, but you played it fairly straight considering the circumstances. You focused on the human survival element in Ferocious, but did you leave any crazy zombie animal ideas on the editing room floor?

STRAND: The book embraces the idea that not all animals in the forest are menacing, and it’s not only the “scary” ones that are undead. So, I played it straight from the perspective that if there was a zombie squirrel coming after you, this is how it would probably behave, and this is how you would probably react to it. And one of my favorite scenes is when an encounter with a rather non-threatening animal suddenly turns horrific. But there really wasn’t anything where I said, “Nope, that’s going too far.” Especially not with the final beast.

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HA: I described Ferocious in my Amazon review as “pure B-movie creature feature fun.” Is that what you were going for or were you hoping to send an environmental message?

STRAND: No message. The only message would be “forest animals really suck when they become zombies.” This baby is pure B-movie creature feature fun!

HA: Uncle Rusty and Mia battle a number of undead animals in the relentlessly paced Ferocious. Have you ever been attacked by an animal?

STRAND: I’ve been bitten by a couple of dogs in my time, and at any given moment I probably have at least one cat scratch, but as far as “Let me tell you a gripping tale about the time I was attacked …” no, I don’t really have anything. A couple of years ago I was sitting out on the end of a dock on a lake, and a bear stepped out of the woods and walked right up to the dock. My thought process was, “This bear is almost definitely NOT going to come after me, but I’m prepared to dive right into that lake if necessary,” and “I want to take a picture of this, but I don’t want to be the dumbass who took a picture of a bear as it was charging him.” The bear moved along, and I survived the encounter.

HA: Are you a cat or a dog person? Do you have any pets that could one day become zombie animals?

STRAND: I love both of them, but I’ve only owned cats for the past 20 years. You can just leave out extra food and kitty litter and go to a writers’ conference and the cat will be fine. I’m not a world traveler, but I’m on the road enough that it wouldn’t be fair to a dog. Chaos the Cat is a gigantic blob and though he scratches me if I try to rub his tummy for one second after he’s decided that it’s time for this experience to stop, I don’t honestly think I’d fear for my life if he became a zombie. He’s not very ambitious.

HA: If you could be any animal, which one would it be and why?

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STRAND: Being able to fly like a bird would be awesome. Though I probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I were a bird. Am I an animal with human thoughts, or am I full-on animal? Because, like, my cat has a wonderful life, but he doesn’t think he has a wonderful life. He thinks we never, ever feed him. Being a dolphin would be cool unless I was captured by one of those blowhole perverts. This question is too hard. Why do I have to answer all the questions? What kind of animal would you be?

HA: Any Jeff Strand news you can break for us Horror Addicts? Can you give us a sneak peek on any new projects on the horizon?

STRAND: After refusing to answer that last question, I hate to refuse to answer this one, too, but there’s actually nothing that’s definite enough to post on a website. Well, okay, I’m working on a thriller called Stranger Than Normal, but it may be a couple of years after it’s finished before it’s published, and it may not have that title. I know what book I’m planning to write after that, which would be the next one published, but that could change, and I’d hate to lie to your readers. That would reflect poorly on you as well. I’d feel bad if you lost the trust of your fans. How about this? Someday there will be a Wolf Hunt 3.

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