Interview: Jolene Haley and Brian LeTendre
I am SO thrilled to have our very own Horror Twins, Brian LeTendre and Jolene Haley, on the blog today! They graciously let me feast on their brains about their books, both past and upcoming. So I’ll stop boring you and just hop right in!
- How did you two start writing together in the first place?
Brian: I was lucky enough to participate in a few of the Pen & Muse writing showcases (Dark Carnival and Haunt), and I was a big fan of Jolene’s because she’s such a positive force in the writing community. I asked her to be a guest on my podcast (See Brian Write), and once we started really talking, we found out how much we had in common as far as the stuff we like to read and write about. Jolene brought up the idea of working together on something, and I jumped at the chance to work with her!
Jolene: I think we both had a great respect for each other’s projects and writings. We’d participated in writing showcases together and I felt like our influences and interests aligned perfectly. Once we chatted for Brian’s podcast, I felt like Brian was so warm and amazing, I really felt inspired. I was intimidated and it took a while, but finally I got up the courage and asked him if he’d want to work together on something. I waited for my rejection but I was amazed—I never got one. He was so nice to give me a chance and we haven’t slowed down since. We’re absolutely horror twins, aligned with metal music and horror movies perfectly. Brian is a dream to work with. I thank my stars every day I get to work with him. (Most patient man in the world award!)
- How does drafting/revising work? Do you rotate chapters or larger chunks?
Brian: There’s no rhyme or reason as far as dividing things up. When we’re drafting, sometimes Jolene will have a very clear vision for a particular scene, and she’ll run with it. Then I might build around that or connect the dots between where we are in the story and the scene she just built. I tend to write very “Point A to Point B,” so my goal is to keep the train moving while we are drafting.
As far as revisions, we tend to start at the beginning and go through each chapter at our own pace, leaving notes along the way. Anything big, we discuss and decide what to do with. Jolene is amazing when it comes to edits and rewrites. Her ability to cut out the fat and get to the heart of a scene, chapter, etc. is something I am in awe of. I trust her 150%, so if she thinks we need to change something, I am already on board.
Jolene: Brian is amazing at plot, keeping the story linear, and endings. I feel like I’m kind of the wildcard and I jump around a lot. Thank God he puts up with it. Ha! Often I’ll get a vision for a specific scene and he’ll kindly connect the dots to get us there. Usually he writes in the morning before I wake up (we’re on different coasts) and I’ll write in the evening when he’s asleep. Sometimes we work together in Google docs at the same time, sometimes even on the same line! Or sometimes on Sundays, if something is not working, we’ll get on Google hangout and talk it through with each other. It’s weird how it all works out so nicely.
I felt like for our first book Harrowed (The Woodsview Murders, #1), we didn’t talk a whole lot about where we were headed…it just kind of happened organically, because working with someone like Brian is a magical experience. Our second book in The Woodsview Murders series, Haunted, has been more plotted out ahead of time but I feel like we had to do that in order to properly create a sequel. We leave a lot of notes to each other and I completely trust him. There are no egos here, just a desire to tell a good story. I think that’s what I love about working with him the most.
- Do you ever have different visions for which way a story will go? If so, how do you decide which path to take?
Brian: We always start off with an outline of the big picture stuff, and anytime there are big decisions to be made along the way, we brainstorm about it and decide together. I tend to have a lot of “What if?” ideas along the way when we write, and Jolene is the best partner in the world, because she encourages that, and doubles down, taking ideas even further. And it’s the same the other way around. There are so many ideas in our stories that started with a “What If?” text or email.
And yes, sometimes we do have a different take on a particular story point, but I think Jolene and I are very laid back and unselfish when it comes to that stuff. We just talk about it and decide what’s best for the story. I cannot say enough about how amazing Jolene is to work with.
But the key is that we talk a lot, which can be a challenge when you are on opposite sides of the country. Texts, Twitter, Email, Google Hangouts, and the comment feature in our documents are all ways we are constantly communicating about our stories.
Jolene: I can’t gush enough about how much I admire Brian and how lucky I am to work with such a dreamboat. Usually we are pretty aligned, but it does happen. Sometimes we do have different ideas, but he’s right, there’s no “my idea is the best” mentality here. We always consider first, what’s best for the story and for the book series. Brian has this amazing plot-twist super power ability, and so far it’s happened on every story we’ve written together (there are three so far and counting!). Every time we write a novel, about halfway through the process he ALWAYS has this crazy, amazing, game-changing idea that blows our plotting out of the water and it’s always a fantastic twist that I never would have thought of. What I love is that we are both so supportive of each other and our creative ideas. Every single time one of us has an idea, the other one is always like “YES, THIS IS GENIUS. WE HAVE TO.” And then we make it happen together.
- HARROWED reads like this twisted, freaky love letter to Slasher horror throughout the years. What (or who) inspired Avery, Quinn, Jason, and the killer?
Brian: Well first off, THANK YOU! Because HARROWED is absolutely a love letter to Jason, Michael, Freddy, Ghostface and all our other favorite slashers. As far as the characters, I think Jolene and I each brought some of our own inspiration to them. So, here are some of mine:
Avery: Nancy Drew, Nancy Thompson (Nightmare on Elm Street), Gail Weathers (Scream), Laurie Strode (Halloween)
Quinn: Willow (Buffy), Enid and Rebecca (Ghost World),
Jason: Tommy Jarvis (Friday the 13th), Derek Feldman (Sidney’s boyfriend in Scream 2)
The Harvester: Jason Voorhees is my #1 inspiration
Bonus–Ray Atkins: My favorite character! I adore Tom Atkins, and Ray is an homage to Detective Ray Cameron, Atkins’ character in Night of the Creeps.
Jolene: AHHH! I could tackle hug you for saying that, Jenna! Thank you! Harrowed was always supposed to be exactly that, a love letter to slasher films and ‘80s horror movies. That was our inspiration so much to the point where Brian and I actually have a document called Easter Eggs where we plugged in scene inspirations, character name inspirations, etc. Pretty much everything is influenced by a horror movie character, actor in a horror movie, or horror movie director. For example, in Harrowed, our main character’s love interest is named Jason Campbell, named after Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th and Bruce Campbell from Army of Darkness. Our book is full of horror Easter eggs that you can catch if you really know your horror stuff. We love to pay tribute to horror tropes, but we also love to turn them on their heads.
For our new book, Orchard Pointe, we decided on a male main character this time with a female big bad. We did the same thing with horror Easter eggs. For example, our villain Isabelle Chambers was inspired by the names of Katharine Isabelle (actress from American Mary, Ginger Snaps) and Chambers came from Robert Chambers, the writer of The King in Yellow. I challenge anyone to collect all of the horror eggs from our books and send them to me. I just might send you something special!
- How do you decide who dies (AKA whose responsible for ending the life of my book crush?) Do you take turns writing those gut-wrenching kill scenes?
Brian: Okay, first off, I apologize for the killing of your crush thing. No one was more heartbroken about that than Jolene, but she was totally on board with it from a story standpoint, and that’s why I love her. And I can tell you from our last conversation about Woodsview, Jolene is getting her revenge on me.
As far as the kills, they fall into two categories—the core cast of each book and then everyone else. For a main cast member like the one you’re talking about (leaving out names for no-spoilers), there was much planning and discussion, but it also changed a lot along the way. And we generally outline most of the deaths before we even start, even for minor characters. But things definitely change as we go.
Jolene: I love to kill my pretties. The more I like the character, the more I know they have to go. Some characters more than others, I agonize over. I really had a hard time killing the person you’re mentioning. I even felt a sense of loss when they were gone! But I think that’s the thing with horror…you never know who’s going to live or die, unless you’re an end-girl or something, but even then there are no guarantees. In a twisted way, the more I love a character the more I enjoy killing them because if you feel sad about it, it means that we’ve done a good job of making you care. That’s every author’s goal to some extent.
- Can you guys give us a hint about what we can expect from HAUNTED?
Brian: Avery is in a really dark place when we start HAUNTED. It picks up one year later, so both her and Quinn are freshman at Central Mass State College. Quinn has started to move on and put the Woodsview massacre behind her, but Avery is very much stuck. And as soon as she starts to move forward, she finds that the past isn’t ready to let her go.
As far as the killer, without spoiling anything, I think the best hint I can give you is that we are making an ’80s slasher movie series in book form. Which means each book will get progressively crazier. That really begins in HAUNTED.
Jolene: Harrowed was very much a horror love letter as we mentioned, but Haunted is also very much so. I came at this project like someone making a horror movie series. Usually the first and second movies are spooky and follow the lore the best, usually movies #3 and #4 are kind of crazy and weird, and anything after that is just off the rails crazy and weird. Well, we accepted that and we are keeping our storyline true to that ‘80s movie form. We’ve already mapped out the series AND planned a spin-off down the line because I will make you one promise… The Woodsview Murders series is going to be scary, bloody, heart-wrenching, weird, and absolutely insane. And we always keep our promises.
- ORCHARD POINTE sounds freaking incredible. I’m obsessed with abandoned/run-down amusement parks and all the secrets they hide. What was your inspiration for this series? It reminds me of JOYLAND and AHS: Freakshow, which makes me so excited I could just scream.
Brian: We are super excited too!! Jolene had wanted to do a creepy carnival story when the idea for Orchard Pointe really crystallized. Like, we had some ideas, and we needed something to tie them together. And it’s the setting of Orchard Pointe that did that. This book is very inspired by the area of southern Maine that I have been vacationing in since I was born. Orchard Pointe, Maine is kind of an amalgam of Wells, Ogunquit and Old Orchard Beach. And there’s a great little amusement park in Old Orchard Beach that I visited last summer for the first time in years. I knew that place had to be a main character in our next book. I took a bunch of pics, sent them to Jolene, and we went to work. Once the setting of Orchard Pointe came to life, the story started to take off.
Jolene: I’ve always loved carnivals. I loved them even more when I started reading Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I became obsessed with dark, creepy carnivals. I’ve even created an anthology dedicated to a creepy carnival, called the Dark Carnival, which became an Amazon best-seller thanks to the wonderfully creepy minds of the amazing authors. No matter how many times it’s done, I’m mesmerized by all things creepy and carnival. Similarly, I love the idea of a weird town that’s filled with strange. Growing up I loved the X-Files, Eerie, Indiana, Halloweentown, etc. I love settings where the town is just as much of a character as the people and thus, Orchard Pointe was born. Brian and I like to say, “When strange takes a vacation, it stays in Orchard Pointe.” Orchard Pointe has a lot of weird, unexplainable things going on that we plan on covering in the series. But what I loved most was marrying these two ideas, bringing together the strange town and the creepy carnival and seeing how everything came to life…and death!
- What kind of acts can we expect from Madame Chambers?
Brian: You will see mesmerism, contortionist, fire dancing, feats of strength and more!
Jolene: Picking acts were one of my favorite things! Impalement arts, fire breathing, tarot, burlesque shows, and more! You’ll have to read on to see if your favorite is featured!
- Is this novel in the same vein as The Woodsview Murders or are you straying away from the slasher aspect?
Brian: It’s definitely not a slasher story, and it leans more toward the suspense side of horror. In Orchard Pointe, the setting is the co-star of the story. It’s like Twin Peaks in that way. This first book is in many ways an introduction to a place we’ll be coming back to visit again and again. As far as the story in this first book, think Something Wicked This Way Comes meets The Lost Boys meets Silver Bullet (without werewolves).
Jolene: He nailed it. This book is more on the thriller / suspense side of horror over the slasher aspect of The Woodsview Murders. I think Brian’s description is accurate. A little Something Wicked This Way Comes, with a dash of The Lost Boys and sprinkles of the X-Files and Twin Peaks.
- Are you working on any solo projects that you can discuss?
Brian: As far as novel work, all of my upcoming projects are with my partner in crime. We have so much fun, we just keep coming up with new series.
I do have a collection of short stories called INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS (Volume One) coming out in August. The collection features some stories that have appeared in various places over the past few years, as well as a few that have never been seen before. One of the stories is connected to Orchard Pointe’s Madame Chambers.
I will also have a story in an upcoming anthology project edited and published by an author who I really admire. *hands the mic to Jolene*
Jolene: He sure knows how to butter me up! Hahaha. I run a small press called Hocus Pocus & Co. that specializes in spooky and quirky reads. I’m publishing a Pizzathology (yep, an anthology about pizza) called A Pizza My Heart in November. Brian’s story (which is amazing) and yours (which is also amazing!) is in there too! I’m really excited for that (and now hungry for pizza).
I love working with Brian and we have SO MANY idea documents in the cabinet to work on. I will always work with him as long as he’ll have me because he’s so much fun to work with.
For solo projects, I haven’t told anyone yet, you’re the first to know, but I have a campy slasher horror novel called The Secret, coming out in 2017. It’s about a girl named Katie who heads off to summer camp with a secret…a deadly secret. I’ll post the working blurb below but I’m really excited. The Secret is getting a cover THIS MONTH and I hope to share it soon after. I hope everyone loves it as much as I loved writing it.
The Secret blurb:
Katie has a secret. A secret that’s made someone follow her to summer camp. A secret that someone is willing to kill for.
Katie Thomas is excited for Freedom Week at Camp Onawaina. With camp closed, counselors are free to party without busloads of children. Camp has always been a home away from home for Katie. And like her peers, Katie can’t wait for the fun and legendary hook-ups that the week will bring. Especially if they involve her and camp bad boy Logan. But Katie isn’t the only person who’s eager for the week to come. Someone knows a secret about Katie. A secret that Katie has kept for three years. A secret that left someone dead. Now Katie must pay for her indiscretions.
Strange things start to happen. Monday, a masked man chases Katie at night and then vanishes. Tuesday, she’s locked in a burning cabin and barely escapes. Wednesday, the first counselor goes missing. Katie wants to believe it’s just coincidence. Katie knows it isn’t possible for someone to come back for revenge after they’re dead. But if it isn’t revenge, what kind of game is it? If Katie wants to survive, she’ll have to figure it out.
Camp Horror is an upper YA thriller where everyone is a suspect, every noise could be the killer, and every breath could be your last.
Thank you guys so much! I love looking into your beautiful, twisted minds.
ORCHARD POINTE is coming soon! I’ll update the post once there are buy links and an official release date, as well as the links for THE SECRET and INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS.