Today’s author interview is with Steven Deighan, author of Submit Horror, Feels Like Stephen King, and The Party. You can find my review of his works here.
You can use this affiliate link to find a copy of Submit Horror for yourself: Submit Horror
Questions About Writing
Is writing your full time job? Do you also consider it a passion?
Deighan: No, it’s not, and yes, it is. It’s what I like to call “a professional hobby”. Only, it feels like more than a hobby, y’know? If I can elaborate… It’s a thought-system that’s constantly running; can often end up in overtime, and if life allows, ends up being extra on the weekends!
Amanja: I totally understand that, I feel the same way about my blog. It’d be nice to make it the full time job at some point though!
What is your schedule for writing like? How much time does it take to write say 1 short story?
D: My schedule, since it’s not the defining of me in a supportive capacity, is flexible. That means I can commit several hours/days or even just one. But I do try to take Stephen King’s advice and clock out after at least 1k words per day. One short story, on average, could be completed in a few days. A couple of times it’s been done in a single sitting (about 5k words)! If you know what’s coming, all the better. But I’ve got stuff sitting there from months ago! They’ll finish themselves when they’re ready, I tell myself. I give priority when/where I can.
A: That makes sense. Some stories are just going to flow out naturally while others require a lot more work.
How much planning goes in to writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?
D: I also adhere to an approach to the page(s) like Dean Koontz mentioned he does: that you finish your work and then go through every single page (probably OCD-style!). For shorter works, you can just smash it all out then re-arrange things later. Put everything down, no matter how odd/silly/quirky it may seem! It may prove useful to your tale later. Or, it may not. But it’s better to edit with EVERYTHING on the page.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?
D: It’s sore(!), but if you can’t take the rough with the smooth, why do it? Why reach for anything? Use what you’ve been told. If it’s purely negative, there could be a problem, or it may just be someone reacting negatively in their review. Don’t sweat it. If you’re able to, get yourself an editor. Everyone’s a critic! But an editor is another pair of eyes that’s attached to a brain that’s got a learned grasp of good English. You can’t fact-check everyone’s credentials, but when/if you do strike up a small relationship, send them something small to start with to gauge the results. I did this with someone I met through Gumtree. He’s now my go-to guy in England when I’m readying something for submission. And because we’ve been e-friends for some years, he knows my writing, knows how I do it but also how I can do it better (thus, teaching me as we go), and doesn’t rip me off in payments! (I think he keeps a close circle of clients so as not to get too caught up!)
A: I think that’s a key piece that new writers may forget. Everyone seems to think that editing should come naturally as a write but it’s actually a totally different skill set!
Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?
D: Stick to what you know. At least, for the majority of it. You’ll need to do your research for particular tales you’re writing (don’t’ always trust Google!). Visit your local libraries often; if you’re able to be in a position where you can create marketing material (posters, cards) these are the places you’d want to advertise in. Experiment with giving away a free flash story (simply photocopy your original to keep costs down) or create some limited edition stuff like postcards and business cards as free giveaways. Pop a contact address (email) on them for feedback, or to maximize your reach to other creators.
A: Good advice! I know I am always less likely to enjoy a book when it feels like the author is completely out of touch with the subject matter. Personal experience will shine through and readers will notice.
Questions About Reading
Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?
D: Yes, and no. I don’t think it’s helpful for aspiring writers to read much of those works from those already ahead. This isn’t a case of sour grapes(!); what I mean is, you could begin to fall into that pit where your input/output is being directed toward other writers’ works, when you could be using that time and energy on yourself to develop. Reading the kind of books that you’re interested in, as well as those in the area you write, is important. If you’re a horror writer, don’t lose the fact that drama, comedy, and even romance can be essential to your written work. Horror is the stage show that encompasses everything because pretty much everything does scare us in some way. What we love/lose, what we fear/hate…
A: I really like that, the best things in life often are scary!
How do you find time to read?
D: I really don’t! I have a big family at home, so a lot of my time is spent looking after them. But I have developed a tenacious constitution after 2 near-fatal hospitalizations since 2017*, so I basically do what I do when I can do it. So, there! I’ve not long finished One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I will start reading Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull this week this week whilst I’m self-isolating.
* July 2017 – I suffered a stroke and was suvvessfully thrombolised. I made what I thought was about 95% recover, but I was heading into massive heart failure that nearly almost went entirely unchecked…
Feb 2019 – …until I ended up in a specialist hospital that kept me inside for 3 whole months! (12 weeks and a day!) For 9 of those weeks, I was hooked up to an intra-aortic balloon pump machine. I was the 2nd man in the UK to ever get up and walk about on it. Another fame claim!
A: I’m very glad to hear that you are doing better though and filling your time well!
Who are the authors that you most want to emulate?
D: Stephen King and Clive Barker. Wanna argue?! LOL! Emulate as in… follow? Imitate? Either is fine by me. You and your readers will have their own heroes to admire. If it’s working for you, great! But look out for others like yourself, those who’re in the same boat as you. Stop rowing so hard for a moment and look at the others doing the same. Are they/we so different?
Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?
D: Me/myself! LOL! Seriously, I suppose I criminally under read, as I’ve only ever kept a small circle of anything in my life, afraid to branch out into unknown territory. Favourite writers/books are no exception. I will give anything a go, however, if it passes my way. There may even be a law firm out there promising writers their due! “Are you an aspring writer of [insert genre here]? Are you criminally under-read? Then, we can help YOU!”
What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?
D: Childhood, eh? I did come across a Pan book of horror stories in primary school. One of the stories involved a man who had sold his soul to the Devil. He seeks out a woman of some kind (there are many!) and she gives him something, an object that’s wrapped up, and sends him away with some instructions to carry out (rituals, and that) before the Devil comes to collect. It turns out the ‘soul’ that Satan retrieves happens to be the sole of a shoe! Ah-ha! That’s you outdone again, eh, Satan?! And there was another story about blind or eyeless ‘children’ who make noises at night like a mewing/squealing cat, to lure people out their homes. If anyone can find this title, let me know. I’m sure it would bring back some memories.
There is one that just now sprung to mind: Terry Deary’s The Ice House of Nightmare Avenue. It’s a kids’ book, a choose-your-own-adventure, and that was fun. It was my first experience of being in control of what I read, and not just going through the pages by numbers.
A: I do love a good pun! And hopefully one of the readers here will be able to help recognize that other mystery book from your past. Comment below!
Questions About Your Books
What draws you to short stories instead of long form fiction?
D: They’re quicker to read! Nah, they’re good writing practice, aren’t they? Plus, throughout the years I’ve been submitting them to many anthologies worldwide. I’d check the website The Horror Tree, and get the info from callouts, there. It was then a case of writing to commission, in a way, and then staying hopeful that you got a good reply. I was rejected more than accepted, so those that didn’t make the cut I just tidied them up based on some of the responses I received (thanks, guys!) and published them together. I also prefer single-author collections. They’re more consistent and not just a put-together effort with 1 or 2 established names just for sales.
Which is your personal favorite story from Submit Horror?
D: Hmm… Whilst I was hospitalized the second time (April 2019) I typed up 3 of those tales (and put the collection together). I put those 3 together as a private paperback and published it for the NHS staff who were my ‘family’ during that 3-month period I was in their care. Those 3 tales were Shooting the P.I., The Board, and The Cardiac Skeleton. But I’m particularly fond of The Voice in the Bush, which I got the idea from while visiting a local football game.
A: What a lovely project, I’m sure they really appreciated it.
Have any of the horror stories you’ve written been inspired by true events or personal experiences?
D: None that I’ve experienced myself, but The Board was based on something that was meant to have happened to a childhood friend’s mother. She said it to us as a warning after she found the makeshift Ouija board we’d made out of cardboard and some pens! I’m not into all that stuff, to be honest. I wish I could experience something that my mind couldn’t find any plausible explanation for, but it’s highly unlikely. I’m an atheist, I guess. I’m more interested in seeing a real spaceship! I would drive down long, deserted roads (in fact, there are a couple near me where documented alien encounters took place!) and just hope I’d see a UFO! Seriously, I wouldn’t run from it – quite the opposite, actually! Imagine having that experience! It’s like Richard Dreyfuss from Close Encounters.
A: I was strictly forbidden from using Ouija boards as a kid which of course made me believe that they had real power. Now I understand it’s just a silly game but back then I was obsessed with trying to find these forbidden objects and various forms of dark magick. Basically, Bloody Mary was a very common game for me and my friends to play.
A UFO would be infinitely more mind blowing to me than seeing something that might could be a ghost.
How closely did you work with the illustrators for Feels Like Stephen King and The Party?
D: Well, FLSK was illustrated in late 2008, early 2009, I think, and it was based on my earlier published tale of the same name. Terry Cooper was a good friend at the time and he just seemed like the best candidate for the role. He did it quite well, I think, and we had a bit of good luck with it. Sadly, not enough to make it noticeable everywhere. Rue Morgue magazine gave us a decent review, and so did Charlie Adlard. Even Edinburgh-based crime scribe, Ian Rankin, has a son who enjoyed it! That’s my claim to fame, there! I haven’t yet asked Mr. King what he would think… (too scared to!).
With The Party, that was based on my 1999 national award winner. I’d found Kate Evans in 2015 and asked about bringing this out. It was full colour. Only at a later date did I plan the 3D conversion. Oh, and the way that it’s set up on the page is based on how I experienced it using the software! You’re getting MY perception/perspective of it! I wear glasses now, so if you’re not feeling it, I’m sorry. Blame me.
A: I’m sure Mr. King would be flattered.
Do you have plans to expand any of your short stories into longer works?
D: I still have a bundle of tales that I didn’t put in to Submit Horror, and one of them is He Who Did Not Land. That’s a crap title, and as I’ve begun expanding it, I have changed it! It’s still early days, and I don’t want to just be writing stories to gather dust forever! These things need to have a purpose, is another bit of advice I could add. Get your tales out there!
The Tent is a memory of my forthcoming, trademarked horror, Bethany Chiller®. It’s coming soon from Dreaming Big Publications.
A: The Tent was one of my favorites from Submit Horror so I’ll be looking forward to that!
Questions About You/Just for Fun
What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?
D: Pronunciation! Because I live in Scotland, a lot of the dialogue we use is shortened, bastardised, or just plain spoken wrong! I’ve grown up on King’s books and read lots of others, so words – English – mean a lot to me, but when I hear people speaking something that’s phonetically-challenged (or in our Scots accent!) it riles me up. But, hey: maybe I have some pet peeves, too… (which I doubt!). I’m not ‘proper’ myself, but I do take the time to be articulate.
What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
D: Um, maybe to Nottingham in 2006. I flew down from Edinburgh, and the guests at this FantasyCon event were Joe Hill and Clive Barker (remember, this was around the time Hill was on his way up the literary ladder and still unknown to many, but seeing him stood at the bar one evening, looking lost and, surprisingly, alone, it was like a young Stephen King there). Both men were incredible to speak to (as most horror writers are) and I came away with some fond memories. My book publisher at the time was from York. I was put up overnight at this fancy hotel at their expense! I felt like a celebrity!
A: Wow, that does sound amazing!
What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?
D: Hmm… Can’t quite put my finger on that. If you’d said gift, I’d have to say the replacement heart I received from an unknown donor, Easter Sunday, 2019. I guess you could say it’s also my favourite.
If it’s something trivial/material, probably the amount of horror memorabilia in my office. Signed books, from Tim Lebbon, Paul Kane, and Clive Barker. Garry Charles and Joe Hill. Many more, of course.
A: Well I don’t think anyone is going to top a heart!! That truly is an amazing gift.
If a stranger wanted to win you over at a bar, how would they start the conversation?
D: “Hey, are you Steven Deighan?!” Or: “I need some help, friend. I’m trying to write this horror story, but…” Or: “Bartender, this guy’s drink is on me!”
A: Ordering a drink for a person is a classic for a reason!
What’s something you would scream at your younger self until you were sure they heard you?
D: There are several hundred things I’d scream at myself, but the main thing would be not to be anything other than myself. I’d tell myself to calm down at times, listen to others’ advice. It’s not all bad out there! I’d maybe tell myself to insist on having my health checked in my thirties more thoroughly by my GP, instead of going down the route I did and suffer from LVSD and nearly die.
Where Can People Find You?
D: Right now, they can email me at my address: email@example.com because I’ve yet to set up an online presence. Had one years ago, but it got blown up and it just became a lot of rubbish. Next time, I will market myself more diligently and professionally.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
D: At this point in time (29th March 2020) I’d like to remind everyone to stay safe and be careful. Not just with this coronavirus, but in all aspects of life/personal care. Look out for yourself and for your family. And if you’re lucky to have good ones, your neighbours.
Remember: The Beatles were told they would never make it. Lots of writers were, too (King, Rowling, being two I know). In every medium, every industry, there are underdogs. Those with a vision – creative underdogs – that no-one around them may understand.
Please look out for Submit Horror, and when she’s ready, Bethany Chiller®. They are my life’s work (up until now) and they’re good reads.