Award-winning author Nancy Kilpatrick has published 22 novels, over 220 short stories, seven story collections, and has edited 15 anthologies, plus graphic novels and one non-fiction book, The goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined (St. Martin’s Press).
Nancy is an honest and passionate writer. We spoke of inspiration, classic horror, and vampires.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Nancy! Thank you for joining me today.
NK: It’s my pleasure, Naching! Thank you for inviting me.
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
NK: I was a kid. We had the Saturday Night Chiller-type movies on but they were late and although it was Saturday night, I wasn’t allowed to stay up for those except on rare occasions. Horror films were my favorites and that just continued when I got old enough to watch those films. But before that, when I was in grade school (not sure of my age but likely around 6 or 7) the school visited the big library in downtown Philadelphia, where I lived, and we were each allowed to take one book out. I choose The Little Witch, which says I lot, I guess. Little did I know how famous that book was, in print for 40 years. So, my love of horror goes way back.
NTK: Who are the authors who’ve influenced you most?
NK: In horror, I tend not to mention living authors. I know way too many writers and I don’t want to offend anyone or leave anyone out. And frankly, it’s many dead authors that shaped me. Poe, Lovecraft, Carter, Jackson, Kafka, Shelley, Stoker, Byron, Bloch…even then, there are more than I’ve named. I see myself as shaped and influenced by every book I’ve ever read, even the terrible ones, and in every genre, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m kind of a lit vampire, meaning, I drink in experiences, so besides general life experiences, books and film have played a big role in who I am as a writer and likely who I am as a person.
NTK: Do you find inspiration in the books you’ve read? Where do you find inspiration?
NK: Inspiration is everywhere. I can see something, smell something, a twig on a peculiar taste, hear a sound and so on. I can have a dream and have written two stories from dreams. I daydream a lot. Many avenues lead to a story idea but the ones that lead to actually writing down those ideas in short story or novel form, those are the exceptional ideas. It’s hard to say what inspires them. One avenue for me is that I own and have read thousands of vampire novels and short fiction so I know what has been done and that always leads me to what has not been done before and how that fits into my personal view of the vampire. To a lesser extent, that works with ghosts and zombies for me, werewolves a bit less. If it’s “reality” horror, for example, nothing supernatural, more like a serial killer, there’s plenty of info on those types of killers around and that can inspire a thought. But thoughts have to connect to feeling for me because I’m essentially an emotional writer.
To keep it simple: I’m inspired when a thought or a feeling becomes a spark.
NTK: How did “Root Cellar” come about?
NK: I lived on a farm for almost a year, 10 miles outside the small town. The house was in exchange for “fixing it up.” It was bought by a well-off Judge who didn’t want to live there but it needed repair so a few friends and I went and painted and sanded and such. When we first arrived, we explored the house. The attic was a crawl space with a peaked roof and slats on the floor. We found some creepy things there, including the coffin and the cards I put into that story. The house was also, as in the story, the “old” part and the “new” part, with all the pickled things in the stairwell down to the basement.
“Root Cellar” was originally a literary story, a story of incest. I had a phase where I tried to force myself to write ‘lit’ fiction. That didn’t last long, though I published a bit. But, I could never get over the idea that lit fic had lost its way in terms of plot. Which is one reason I love horror, because plot is still crucial and that means a story to me. Anyway, I submitted “Root Cellar” to a major newspaper that was having a short fiction contest (yes, that was exceptional!) I was the first runner up and the story was published. As I was reading it in the paper, it struck me how that story was really a vampire story so I rewrote it and published it and it’s been published several times, been in a Best-of antho, up for two awards and so on. Really, it was crucial to see that in print and recognize that what I was trying to force myself to do was not right for me. Generally, I’m pretty aware of when I’m trying to go the “wrong” way because I think it’s the “right” way, and it’s not.
NTK: You’ve written a series called Thrones of Blood. How are your vampires different from others?
NK: Because I’ve read so much vampire material and seen so many movies, and because I’ve written erotica (mainly a series of seven pastiche novels based on horror classics: Dracula; Frankenstein, Jekyll/Hyde, etc. etc.) and because I’ve seen and read erotic vampire novels and movies and wanted to infuse a series with that but not just that, I started thinking about a new series. I began writing these books about 12 or 13 or more years ago, because the idea churned for a few years before I started writing. One year in the winter I was staying alone in Florida for a month and cranked out book one and some of book two and three. Of course, all that had to be revised. I was just having fun and threw in a lot of genres and kitchen sink and had to clean up all the mess and stick to the story. There are other books, of course, with warring vampires and humans but I wanted to show the vampires as somewhat more evolved, while still violent, and that the humans might be even more violent. Ultimately, I wanted to show that because of a long life, the vampires, which are as resistant to change as humans, do have a longer perspective and can alter, at least a little. I wanted all this to come through in each book amidst the violence, the sex, the treachery, betrayals, viciousness, traitorous acts and even love and kindness where least expected.
I have not seen what I’ve done. And frankly, readers need to be a bit smart to read these books because I work with paradox a lot in my writing. It’s awfully hard to hold two opposites at the same time and that’s kind of what I hope readers will do. I also like to shift allegiances a lot. That’s kind of real life too for thoughtful people.
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
NK: I usually have a kind of plot overview for novels but rarely do a chapter by chapter outline. At the same time, as I write, I kind of know where I’m going. That doesn’t mean the characters want to go there and more times than not they insist on me paying attention to them. As I said, I’m an emotional writer so I have to respect my feelings and if it feels dull, wrong, just a big NO, then it won’t work for me and I have wait until something comes to me as to how to proceed. And as with all creative endeavors, one can go this way and that, both ways pretty obvious. But waiting often leads to a third way that wasn’t envisioned and that’s much better and leads to something much better. So no, I plan a bit, but I’m open to change. If I wasn’t, my characters wouldn’t work with me! (Laughs.)
What I mean by “this way and that” is that in every story, based on the conflict, there are usually two obvious resolutions of that conflict. If you go to either, the reader (who is as smart as the writer) feels bored and cheated because both resolutions are too obvious. This is where a creative solution has to make an appearance.
NTK: What makes good erotica?
NK: I was on an erotic-horror panel once with about eight or nine women and they ranged in age from youngest to oldest. At the oldest end were Nancy Holder and me. Someone asked if we writers were aroused when we wrote erotic-horror. Invariably from the younger end, there were definite and resounding “NO’s” all along and when it got to Nancy Holder, she said, kind of, maybe a little, yes. Then me, who said, “Of course I am aroused! If I can’t feel it, I can’t write it!” (Nancy H., by the way, thought I was so brave to say that, but I didn’t see myself as brave, more just honest because if I can feel the emotion of what I’m writing, I can make it believable for the reader—and that goes for the unsavory emotions too. There’s a huge difference in feeling murderous, which almost everyone has felt at some point, and committing murder. Knowing and feeling the difference is what keeps us all from acting horrifically in a spontaneous, or even a thought-out, moment.)
My seven erotic novels are The Darker Passions: Dracula; Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Fall of the House of Usher, Carmilla, and The Pit and the Pendulum.
NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?
NK: There are soooo many. I’d just be listing them. I’ll say a few. Daughters of Darkness (stylish). The Exorcist (the original, so scary). [REC] (an adrenalin rush for sure!) All of Romero’s zombie movies, especially Night of and Dawn of the Living Dead. 30 Days of Night (great concept and a horrific vampire gang). 28 Days Later (I like fast-moving zombies). Martin (another Romero, this one vampire). And I loved the original The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, a black and white based on Richard Matheson’s wonderful novel. That, of the three films based on the novel, was very creepy. Train to Busan (from South Korea, a great zombie movie, human, touching. It’s in subtitles. I’ve seen it three times.) It Stains the Sands Red (Wow, what a surprising zombie film. Two coke heads from LA, car stalled in the desert en route to see people, and a zombie comes and does guy in. The woman, seemingly a coke-head, has to “run” from the zombie but they are in the desert. It shifts and is so amazing. I was really blown away by this movie.)
You see, there are so many more I could name. Give me a minute and I can name 100 or more!
NTK: Do you have a favorite horror TV show?
NK: I liked the original Dark Shadows, and even the remake with Ben Cross. Forever Knight was fun. True Blood was incredible. (Kudos to Harris for allowing the adaptation.) There’s a great book called Vampire TV which is incredibly thick and surprisingly stuffed with TV shows of vampires alone. I also liked the old Twilight Zone, Kolchak, those kinds of X Files TV shows. Again, many more than I can name.
NTK: What’s your favorite horror novel?
NK: Again, I can’t name books by living authors so I’ll have to go with early works. And in fact, there’s little horror I’ve read or seen that I haven’t liked, even the bad stuff, because I can see merit in just about everything, sometimes just a drop of merit, but still. So that would Dracula by Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, The Picture of Dorian Grey, all of Poe’s work, Robert Louis Stevenson’s work, even the ponderous Varney the Vampire or, The Feast of Blood which predates Dracula by a few decades. There are all sorts of wonderful novels out there and I encourage people to find and read some of what has been done in the past because, for example, the vampire did not start with Anne Rice’s books or Buffy. You’d be surprised by some of the beautiful and intense work that came before.
NTK: Nancy, what does the future hold for you? What works do we have to look forward to?
NK: At the moment, I’m working on book five in the Thrones of Blood series: Anguish of the Sapiens Queen. Book six is next up and that should be the end of the series, published in 2020. I also have a science fiction novel just about finished. The former will be out later this year and that latter…no date yet. I’m likely reissuing my horror (non-vampire) collection Cold Comfort. And I am in discussion for a new antho I’ll co-edit. This year I’ll be traveling to a few summer/fall events: Fan Expo in Toronto, and Word on the Street. Possibly Frightmare in the Falls. Early next year I’ll be at Stokercon in England.
By the way, if anyone wants to join my newsletter, which is short and once a month via email, they can go to my website: nancykilpatrick.com. The form to join is at the top.
NTK: Thank you so much for joining me today. It was an honor to interview you.
NK: Thank you, Naching, for having me.