Wow, we have two amazing interviews coming up. Today, we have Courtney Alameda, author of the amazing Shutter, and on the 10th, we’ll have the fab Mackenzi Lee, of the soon-to-release This Monstrous Thing! Between the two of them, we’re covering the great old ones of horror from Frankenstein to Dracula.
Courtney Alameda is back with Trigger, a short story in the Shutter-verse, which you can find at Tor.com (the story will go live at 9 AM EST). Courtney’s debut blew my mind into all sorts of pieces, large and small, and she was kind enough to answer a hailstorm of questions I hurled at her for her Trigger mini-blog tour.
Timon: What do you want to bring to horror that readers can’t get anywhere else?
Courtney: Empathy is the soul of the scare. I believe that horror is a singular sort of genre, since the nomenclature points directly at the feeling it’s meant to evoke. So for me, the emotional connection between the reader and the main characters trumps almost all else. A writer could pack plenty of tense, horrible scenarios into her work, but never squeeze a drop of fear from her readers if said readers don’t care about the characters.
I like to think that both SHUTTER and its prequel short story, TRIGGER, succeed on the empathy level, presenting a strong but ultimately flawed heroine fighting to protect what (and who!) she cherishes most. I feel too many YA hero/ines fall into the “supreme badass” category, in which they’re capable of taking care of themselves, thank you very much. Personally, I don’t find that to be true; we are stronger in all things when we stand together. I wanted Micheline to fully embody that idea, as I believed her dedication to her friends made her extremely empathetic (especially for teens), and stronger as an individual.
I also aim to dodge horror tropes in my work and instead present a blend of genres, which (I hope) makes the storytelling and world a little fresher. Micheline manages to avoid most of the “last girl” tropes, by virtue of her martial prowess and cool, analytical head.
Timon: You succeed in so many areas in SHUTTER where tons of other horror authors try and flat out fail—such as the wonderful emotional moments, believable religious characters, a coherent world—what’s your starting pointing in making everything work?
Courtney: Thank you, that’s so kind! If I had to choose a “starting point” for SHUTTER and TRIGGER, it would be the main character, Micheline Helsing. Several years ago, I “saw” this slip of a girl in an abandoned house in my mind’s eye. She stood frozen on a staircase, breath bated, with a Nikon camera clutched in her hands. Something ghastly creaked across the floorboards overhead, and I knew she’d come to exorcise whatever demon haunted the house.
Everything built itself up from that point. I wish I could say it was a downhill process, but it was entirely uphill. (But the vista from the top made all that hard work worth the effort!)
Timon: Most of the time when I read paranormal and urban fantasy there’s a moment where I consciously choose to believe in the world for the sake of the story. SHUTTER didn’t need that moment. The world felt huge, believable, and actually had logical consequences. And you emotionally attached me to the world, a new one on me. What was your process in creating such a believable world?
Courtney: Honestly, my process is messy and quite “method,” if that word can be applied to writers. I tend to take on the neuroses of my main characters (which, by the way, can be rather terrifying), especially during the drafting stage. I expect to throw out at least a draft or two, I revise a lot; and my worlds get built slowly, layer upon layer. I wish I could say it was something more profound than hard work and blood, sweat, and tears, but that’s what makes my worlds work. Well, that and time.
For example, I’m currently working on a new novel called PITCH DARK – it’s basically INDIANA JONES and TOMB RAIDER meets ALIEN. Several major points of the plot, including a heart-rending betrayal and the presence of an interstellar terrorist organization, didn’t surface until the end of the first draft. I’ll be throwing this draft out in its entirety, and starting afresh soon.
However, I wish I could skip the neuroses for PITCH DARK . . . I’ve never been claustrophobic in my life, but since Lana (one of two protagonists) suffers from extreme claustrophobia, flying’s been a nightmare these past few weeks!
Timon: Maybe I’ve been unlucky in what I’ve read lately, but a lot of YA books seem to downplay the importance of friendship during the teenage years. SHUTTER, thankfully, is very friendship positive, and the relationships between Micheline, Ryder, Jude, and Oliver form the core of the story. How important was this to you?
Courtney: I’m asked this question a lot, especially in the context of the Bechdel test (which SHUTTER and TRIGGER both pass, despite the number of male characters in the works). Honestly, Micheline’s friends manifested in my subconscious as male initially, and I finalized the decision based on 1) my own experiences as a teen, since so many of my friends were male; and 2) the statistical number of women currently serving in the military and on police forces nationwide (usually less than 15 – 20%).
Teen friendships aren’t just important, they’re vital – most often, teens are closer to their friends than they are to parents and family. I’m generalizing, of course, but I think it’s natural for teens to gravitate away and form strong bonds outside their family units. Those bonds are just as impactful as ones with family (perhaps more so, in some cases), and should be acknowledged and celebrated in YA lit.
But it goes deeper than teen psychology for SHUTTER and TRIGGER: The themes of friendship run so strongly through Bram Stoker’s DRACULA (which inspired Micheline’s world), that I wanted the relationships between Micheline, Ryder, Jude, and Oliver to mimic those between van Helsing, Jonathan and Mina Harker, et al in the original work. People have responded very positively to the boys’ unwavering loyalty to Micheline, and her endless devotion to them. I’m grateful for that!
Timon: You infuse the world of SHUTTER with a deep sense of horror love, especially toward Bram Stoker, can you tell us why you love horror and what horror means to you?
Courtney: Horror, to me, has always been a metaphor for conquering one’s demons. I read my first Stephen King novel at age eleven, while I was dealing with some pretty big, scary demons of my own. I found a measure of solace in watching people defeat frightening things, and it gave me courage to face my own on a near-daily basis.
I never had control over the things that scared me as a kid; but when I write horror, I control the monster. To a certain extent, I choose when and how those monsters meet their downfall. All writing is exorcism, in a way; whether it’s a voice, a character, a story, or a personal demon that’s rushing out, the practice of getting those things out of your head and onto the page is cathartic.
And let’s be honest . . . writing horror’s just badass.
Timon: Thank you for stopping by and spending some time with us at the Midnight Society!
Courtney is also holding a giveaway which you can enter here, and after you do that, go read Trigger!