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Interview with Lisa Morton

26 Feb

(Me with Lisa Morton in Vegas at KillerCon 2011)

Rhonda:  Hi Lisa!  This is the 3rd annual Women in Horror Recognition Month and I could think of no one better to interview for MonsterLibrarian to recognize this month.  Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions of mine.

Lisa: Thank YOU, Rhonda. And I think you’re a pretty darn good example of Women in Horror month yourself.

Rhonda:  Let’s start with some easy questions.  How did you get your start in the writing industry?

Lisa: I studied screenwriting in college, and so my first few sales were tiny little options on various screenplays and teleplays, but it wasn’t until I sold the screenplay for MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS (which I co-wrote with Tom Burman) that I had what I’d call my first real sale. That happened largely on the strength of Tom’s name; he’s one of the great grandmasters of special makeup effects, and we tailored the script (which was originally titled LIFE ON THE EDGE) to include a lot of makeup effects, which Tom offered to do at basically his cost (and I think he even may have lost a little money on them!). My first prose sale, though, was to Stephen Jones and David Sutton for DARK VOICES 6. I’d met Steve at a convention and we’d hit it off, so he invited me to submit.

Rhonda:  Going along with the previous question… who were some of the most influential authors for you when you were starting out?  And also today?

Lisa: I wanted to become a screenwriter when I saw THE EXORCIST at the age of 15, so I’d certainly have to list William Peter Blatty. Then the writer who made me really want to write prose was Dennis Etchison, who remains one of my favorite writers.

Rhonda:  How do you go about your writing process?  For example, how do you go about your research, what kind of timeframe do you give yourself for writing, what kind of setting do you place yourself in to write?

Lisa: It depends on what I’m writing. Over the last few years I’ve switched back-and-forth almost equally between short fiction, long fiction, non-fiction, and screenplays, and I take slightly different approaches to each. For short fiction, I’ll get any research out of the way, work it out in my head for a while, then just dive right in. For book-length stuff, though, I have to outline in advance, or I lose track of where I’m going (and since endings are often what I come up with FIRST, it’s important for me to keep track of how I’m getting there). For non-fiction, of course, the research can be insane; I spent around two years on THE HALLOWEEN ENCYCLOPEDIA. And of course with screenwriting, everything’s often set for you – including those deadlines.

As for setting…I tend to sprawl on the couch at home with my netbook. I’m not one of those people who can go sit in a coffee shop or some other public place; the last thing in the world I want to deal with when I’m in the writing groove is the inevitable, “Oh, are you writing?”

Rhonda:  I’ve read all of your fictional novellas and your novel, The Castle of Los Angeles, and noticed that every book had a very powerful female lead.  I even noticed this in some of your short stories.  I was
wondering what made you choose this personality for your characters?

Lisa: First off all – thank you for reading everything! That kind of blows me away, frankly.

That use of female leads hasn’t really been a deliberate choice. I think part of it stems from the situations in the stories – in THE SAMHANACH, for example, because I was dealing with a creature that stole children, it made sense to focus on a single mom. In CASTLE, so much of it was taken from my own experience in small theater that it just seemed unthinkable to make the lead something other than my own gender. In my last novel, MALEDICTION (which is still being shopped by my agent), there’s a theme of a powerful, destructive antagonist going up against a nurturing protagonist, so again – the circumstances kind of dictated the sex. As to why so many of my stories seem to thematically involve feminine attributes…well, I guess that’s just who I am.

Rhonda:  Your collection of short stories, Monsters of L.A., includes a special feature section detailing a bit about where the ideas for your stories came from.  Do you come up with the ideas for your longer fiction in this same manner typically?

Lisa: I think so. Los Angeles has obviously been a big part of my life and a source of inspiration again and again, be it short or long fiction.

Rhonda:  You have done a lot of non-fictional work on the history of Halloween.  How did you gain such a fascination with this holiday and how did you get involved with writing The Halloween Encyclopedia?

Lisa: This is kind of a disappointing story, because it really wasn’t some lifelong obsession or something! Back in 2001, I’d just finished my first non-fiction book – THE CINEMA OF TSUI HARK, about the godfather of Hong Kong movies – and the publisher asked me if I’d consider doing another book with them. I looked at their current catalog at the time, and saw that they’d just published THE CHRISTMAS ENCYCLOPEDIA. I had a small collection of Halloween books I’d acquired as a sort of mild interest, so I said, “How about THE HALLOWEEN ENCYCLOPEDIA?” They said yes, and that’s how it really started. I accrued so much material researching that first Halloween book that it made sense to roll it over into more.

Rhonda:  Going back to this being Women in Horror Recognition Month.  It seems that the fictional horror genre has an abundance of male authors compared to females.  I had wondered if it was due to the fact that more male authors tend to push the boundaries on the genre with the excess gore, mutilation scenes, etc… Do you have any thoughts on this or do you have any idea why the percentage of female horror authors would be less?

Lisa: It’s something that’s been discussed a lot over the last few years, and I think the answer’s kind of complicated. For one thing, a lot of women writers are enjoying tremendous success with paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and making a lot more money writing those than they would horror (and I don’t mind confessing that I sometimes _wish_ I could write in those areas, but I just don’t have it in me). Now, here’s where I’m going to say the bad things: That fiction you’re mentioning, the stuff with the excessive gore and mutilation – take another look at those books, and you’ll see that they center on violence directed at women. Rape is often central to these books, and so is referring to women by a variety of derogatory terms. If a lot of women writers are looking at this stuff and saying, “Uhhh…no thanks,” who can blame them?

Rhonda:  Adding on to my comment above regarding many male authors writing such gruesome stories nowadays… Your latest novella, Wild Girls, also has quite the darkside in it compared to your previous work.  What made you choose to write something with quite a bit of mutilation included and was it harder for you to write in this fashion compared to your typical style?

Lisa: I really think of WILD GIRLS as a very dark satire. I wanted to take those cliches of rape and mutilation and excessive gore and flip all the genders, primarily as a way of pointing out how silly some of that stuff becomes. Given that I was approaching it as almost humor…it was actually pretty fun to write!

Rhonda:  In addition to yourself, what other female horror authors would you recommend to our readers?

Lisa: Wow, there are a lot these days, and I’d say I’m pretty equally split between male and female writers in my list of favorites. I loved stuff by Roberta Lannes and Lisa Tuttle and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro before I even started writing prose. More recently, I’d name Sarah Langan, Alex Sokoloff, Gemma Files, Kaaron Warren, Allyson Bird, and Maria Alexander as writers whose works I’ve enjoyed. And I’m thrilled to meet young female writers at conventions and online and see their talent and dedication, so I expect that list will grow considerably soon (aside from the fact that I’ll probably think of a dozen more names I’d mention as soon as I hit the “send” button on this!).

Rhonda:  Time for the dreaded question!  Of all your books, which is your favorite and why?  And, this could be the same answer, but, which of your books did you most enjoy writing?

Lisa: Hmmm…hard question…okay, I’m sorry to do this, but it would probably have to be a book that hasn’t been published yet: My first novel, NETHERWORLD. Up until I wrote that book, I really wasn’t sure if I could write a novel or not; I was so used to short form things (including screenplays) that writing something fiction-wise that was 90,000 words long just seemed impossible. But I finally sat down to do it, and it was great, and I had a blast writing it, and I wanted to write more. I’m sorry my agent hasn’t been able to get a deal on that one yet, because it would make a great series and focuses on another of those strong female leads: A 19th-century British noblewoman named Lady Diana Furnaval, who travels the world (and other worlds as well!) fighting evil and inadvertently advancing the cause of suffragettes. It’s a really fun story, and I still remain hopeful of it finding a good home someday.

However, of the works I’ve published…I’ll probably go with THE CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES. It’s the book that bears the closest resemblance to my real life, and it was also great fun to create the Castle and the mythology behind it.

Rhonda:  Would this book be the book you would recommend to new readers of your work or is there a better starting point for someone wanting to check out your writing?

Lisa: I’d probably go with CASTLE.

Rhonda:  Not only are you an amazing writer, but you also have experience in the fields of movie, tv, and theater.  Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with these industries?

Lisa: I’ve covered them a little already, but I’ll add here: Screenwriting is something I’ve come back to throughout my life, largely because it pays off my bills in ways that fiction hasn’t yet! I’ve made some good friends and good connections in the film industry, so I still get called up every once in a while. There is, for example, right now a cable mini-series involving pirates that’s looming as a possible job for 2012…

Rhonda:  Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects you are working on?

Lisa: One fun book I’ll have out later this year is a collection of autobiographical essays called ADVENTURES IN THE SCREAM TRADE. I’ve had some pretty bizarre experiences working in the movie business (hey, how many writers can claim to have literally blown a roof off?), and for years friends have been telling me I should write this stuff down, so I finally did. It’ll be Bad Moon Books’ first non-fiction title.

I also have a non-fiction graphic novel (yes, I know how that sounds) coming this year from McFarland – WITCH HUNTS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE BURNING TIMES, co-written with my friend Rocky Wood and illustrated by a very talented young Australian named Greg Chapman; and my first narrative history of Halloween, TRICK OR TREAT?: A HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN will be out from Reaktion Books.

Beyond that…there’s a deal pending right now that I can’t say much about yet, but it would combine my film and prose writing and be possibly the biggest deal of my life. And it involves working with people I adore, so I’m very hopeful that’ll go through…even though it will eat my life for a long, long time!

Rhonda:  Where is the best place for our readers to find out more about you and keep up-to-date with future releases?

Lisa: I try to keep my website,, up to date, but for the very latest, I welcome anyone to follow me on Facebook.

Rhonda:  Thanks again for your time Lisa!  It’s been fun interviewing you for Women in Horror Recognition Month.  Keep writing!

Lisa: Thanks again, Rhonda! And I’ve got no choice on that “keep writing” part!

Interview also posted at MonsterLibrarian.