Sam Stone Talks About Corsets, Writing and Frazer Hines
Today folks for your reading pleasure I would like to present an interview with Sam Stone, UK author of The Vampire Gene series of novels.
Sam – I’m good thank you J
GNOH – Could you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
Sam – Certainly I’m a writer of Horror and Fantasy novels. I’ve been writing professionally since 2007. I’m best known for my Vampire Series ‘The Vampire Gene’.
GNOH – You said that John Fowles – The Collector first inspired you to put pen to paper, what was it about that book that had such an impact on you?
Sam – The Collector was very much a psychological thriller. There were moments in there of sheer terror, things that were implied rather than said. I remember one scene where the female protagonist Miranda almost escapes from her kidnapper Fred. She thinks she’s home free and then she finds him in the doorway holding an axe. It was down by his side, I think, but the way Fowles described the axe, and the way that Fred looked, you knew that if she tried to run any further then he was definitely going to kill her. It was a truly terrifying moment and one which Fowles did so well.
GNOH – Other than Fowles, who are your other literary heroes?
Sam – I’m a huge fan of horror and that has a lot to do with Stephen King and his early writing. I’ve read a lot of Dean Koontz also and I always loved the works of Tanith Lee and Graham Masterton. In vampire writers – Anne Rice was brilliant in the early years.
GNOH – So what’s the appeal of horror to you? I see you did the sneaking downstairs to watch Christopher Lee films, as I did.
I think horror, especially psychological horror, gives you a ‘safe-scared’ thrill to be honest. I’m not a huge fan of gore really but it has its place if the build up is scary enough. I’m also more into the supernatural type of horror; I don’t enjoy reading about real-life things particularly. I think this is because with supernatural horror you can put it from your mind later as not being possible. Having said all that I did write a really horrible, gory serial killer story in my collection ‘Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings’ which doesn’t have any real basis in magic or supernatural. There is still that strong psychological element in the story but then there is also the very gruesome aspect of the deaths as well. Strangely, because I wrote the story it doesn’t make me feel sick at all but it did upset my editor’s stomach! (Laughs)
GNOH – On a similar note what do you think of the current crop of horror movies? Do you think they have lost a lot of their heart and soul, as I do?
Sam – I really am not into torture porn so films like Saw and Hostel don’t really appeal to me. I think we’ve lost the art of generating real fear because it’s been sacrificed for gore quite often. This sort of film isn’t scary to me either, I think it lacks the feeling of suspense and they are somewhat predictable.
GNOH – You have an honours degree in English and Writing for Performance and an MA in Creative Writing. Do you think this helped in honing your craft, more than just writing and submitting your work? Do you think that a writer has to have an inherent skill in storytelling, or can it be learned?
Sam – First and foremost I think the art of storytelling, talent and imagination can’t be taught. What I think you can learn is how to control the way you tell stories and to improve them by understanding what you are doing.
When I first started writing the words would come out in whatever order felt right. It was natural for me to structure stories in a certain way and generally they worked out fairly well. I think this is partly because I always had a book in my hand from a very early age and I learnt good grammar and structure automatically. However before taking my degrees I didn’t necessarily understand how I was doing it.
Taking the analytical approach and exploring good writing, learning to recognise why it was good, was a huge step forward for me. It gave me the understanding I needed to improve what I was doing naturally and shape it into something professional instead of raw talent. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my writing before then. So, as well as honing the craft of writing I learnt that I could also trust my instincts. I could now recognise when something was good without the emotional attachment that you have to every piece of writing you create. I’m ruthless with myself in the editing process. If an entire chapter isn’t working and doesn’t actually give anything to the narrative that moves the story forward, then it has to go, no matter how attached I am to the word order.
For this reason I love being edited also. I turn over a manuscript that I think is the best I can make it and then your editor queries you on something, you look again, and suddenly you know you can do better. I’m a bit of a nightmare about last minute changes. I added an entire prologue to ‘Demon Dance’ the day before it went to print. Fortunately my editor, Terry Martin, agreed with me that the book benefitted for the last minute addition.
GNOH – Are you a language and grammar snob? It seems that lately, these interviews have been with authors who have Degrees in English, and as someone who is dyslexic, always worries that, “these guys are going to think I’m semi literate”.
Sam – No not really. I think sometimes grammar has to be manipulated to fit with the narrator – especially in the first person. There is a lot of genre fiction out there that isn’t particularly well written and yet is very popular. I think mostly the narratives ‘tell’ too much and are very patronising but this isn’t a snobbery more that I’m very aware of what makes writing ‘good’ for me and this kind of fiction doesn’t appeal. That’s not to say it isn’t perfectly valid when there is an audience that enjoys it. People read fiction for a variety of different reasons but the main on is to relax. If a book reads well, even if the grammar isn’t perfect, and it makes sense for the narrative, then it works.
GNOH – You give talks to schools on writing, how interested are kids these days about writing and reading?
Sam – The kids love to have visiting authors at their schools. I’ve been very privileged to work with some extremely gifted and talented children who really wanted to have a career in writing or journalism. I’ve also worked with the less able only to discover they excelled in creativity and even though they lacked the skills to put them down their ideas were amazing. I enjoy working with those children the most, because they can be really inspired when they realise that those are hurdles that can so easily be overcome if you have natural talent.
GNOH – How have you and Frazer Hines become such close friends, I even saw the pair of you on Celebrity Cash in the Attic?
That’s a story! Well, I went along to Gallifrey Convention in LA a few years ago with my partner David J Howe. As we arrived at the airport Frazer was collected by the same runners as we were and so we ended up on the same bus to the hotel. Over the weekend we made friends, David already knew Frazer, but I hadn’t met him before but remembered him very well from Emmerdale. After the convention we discovered Frazer was planning to stay on longer and so were we. We just ended up hanging out together, doing day trips, and we all got on so well that we became firm friends from that week onwards really. After that I edited his autobiography when it was republished at ‘Hines Sight’ and I’m still twisting his arm to write volume two.
GNOH – How would you describe your writing style?
Poetic is something that people observe about my writing style. I like to write fast-paced, but literary. I hate reading books with pages describing rooms and clothing. Those moments always take you out of the action and so I often skip pages in a book because it has many wasted words. For example: I was reading a popular novel recently in which the main character took a whole chapter to have a shower and bake a cake. I kept wondering if we were going to get a Psycho moment but literally nothing happened. If I’d have been the editor of that book, that chapter would have been cut completely because it was boring. In fact, I never read on after that because I completely lost interest in the story.
My style was devised through a combination of influences really. I was a fan of Vladimir Nabokov’s style in ‘Lolita’ – it opened with such beautiful prose that every word felt as though I was rubbing velvet on my brain. I wanted to write as poetically, but faster, more fitting for the modern reader. I will describe a room in a couple of sentences, not a whole page, or I will show my reader what my characters are feeling by their reactions. I also hate adverbs and really try to avoid using them as much as possible. They are corny somehow.
GNOH – Are your novels primarily aimed at female end of the audience?
Sam – Not at all. I have equally as many male readers as female ones.
GNOH – Why vampires, and have you tried to bring your own rules and mythology to your vamps?
Sam – Vampires were the start of my writing career but definitely not the end of it. I write about all sorts of subjects and beings. Vampires initially had the draw for me because I enjoyed the literary writings and mythology of other writers in this genre. Of course I had to do it differently. My vampires believe they are truly immortal in the first three books. They can withstand anything. The bite usually kills their victims unless they are a carrier of the Vampire Gene. They are fierce, brutal monsters and they make no apologies for being that. However they are still capable of very deep feeling. Obviously they live in this world and wouldn’t want their playground to be destroyed.
GNOH – It’s been a successful series gaining a number of award nominations, do these nominations help build your confidence as a writer?
Sam – Yes the awards nominations do help. It’s amazing that people like what I do enough to nominate or recommend it. My readers are great too! I often receive emails or private messages, or post someone will post on my facebook page to say how much they loved the books. The biggest compliment of all is when they tell me that they couldn’t put them down (that might have something to do with the superglue my publisher puts on the covers though!).
GNOH – The series has its own blog, where the characters from the novels blog, what gave you the idea for that?
Sam – Well that was a bit of fun when I was writing ‘Zombies in New York’. I decided that my vampire Lucrezia should have her own business card which would be inserted into some (not all) of the copies. There are only 250 of those cards out there randomly inserted into the books. The initial idea was to create a webpage for Lucrezia as she hides out in the human world working as a haematologist, but then the blog thing just happened and my vampires started talking. They all wanted to get in on the act!
GNOH – This year saw the release of your short story and poetry collection Zombies in New York & Other Bloody Jottings, how well has this been received?
Sam – It’s done fantastic so far and the feedback and reviews have been excellent. I’m extremely proud of this book because it shows that I can write about subjects other than vampires. There is a section in the book dedicated to Lucrezia’s stories (my vampire from Futile Flame) but they aren’t really about being a vampire. It’s more about things she gets involved in throughout history. Like solving the Jack the Ripper case and thwarting a pack of werewolves when they attempt to raise a Fenrir from fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits. The rest of the stories are different genres. So you have ghost stories with a difference, a psychological thriller, a black comedy as well as a very haunting tale of a Siren exiled from the sea.
My readers seem to be enjoying the author’s notes after each story, also. The collection is very much an exploration of writing and the art of the written world and I added the notes because I’m frequently being asked where I get my ideas from.
GNOH – As a bit of an uncultured slob, who has never really gotten poetry, other than dirty limericks, what’s the appeal of writing poetry? Does it allow you to express thoughts and feelings in a way that story writing can’t?
Sam – Poetry is fun for me. I don’t take it that seriously to be honest and I don’t think I’m that good at it. But it’s an exercise in showing a story or set of ideas in as few words as possible. I’ve never understood epic poetry myself. I prefer small ones! I think putting across a theme in few words is a skill.
GNOH – You’re a big fan of conventions, I always see your name or picture in write-ups of them. What’s the appeal of a convention? Do you prefer going as a spectator, or as a guest speaker?
Getting to meet the great Robert Rankin, I’m so jealous
Sam – I love the social aspect of going to the conventions. I really like meeting new people and talking to them. It’s also a great way to network and see the friends that I’ve made over the last few years. Sometimes I’d prefer to just go along and be there, but from a professional viewpoint it’s much better if I’m a guest. I’ve been a guest at Gallifrey for the last two years and I’ve recently been invited to a huge convention in Colorado Springs for next February. It’s the first time I’ve made Guest of Honour and I’m absolutely thrilled.
GNOH – What has been your favourite convention?
Sam – Well I always enjoy FantasyCon because it’s a very social event on the British
calendar. I absolutely love the Asylum Steampunk convention in Lincolnshire. Everyone is so friendly and the organisers treat their guests really well. My absolute favourite has to be Gallifrey in LA though. It’s just excitement from the minute we land to the moment we return and I’ve made so many great friends in the states that it’s my main opportunity to see them and be with them once a year.
GNOH – You seem to enjoy dressing up in corsets, do you subscribe to my theory that if more women dressed up in a steam punk Victorian manner this world would be a better place?
Sam – Actually I do! That’s one of the things I love about Asylum. Everyone has such respect for each other and they like the somewhat old-fashioned view that we treat each other nicely. The world would definitely be a better place if we all chose to behave that way all the time. The Victorian/Steampunk clothing gives people the excuse to be polite without feeling like they will be ridiculed for it.
GNOH – So what does the future hold for you?
Sam – More writing. I’m currently working on an Epic Fantasy Series that has nothing to do with vampires. Post apocalyptic story with a difference …
GNOH – Thanks a lot for popping over for chat Sam, it’s been a lot of fun.
Sam – Thanks so much for inviting me. This wine is rather good but I’m not sure about the ginger snaps …
GNOH – You can purchase Sam’s books