An Interview With Suzanne Robb
Today folks, I’d like to present an interview with up and coming author Suzanne Robb.
GNOH – Hi Suzanne, how are things with you?
GNOH – Hi Suzanne, how are things with you?
Suzanne – I’m good thanks, hope all is well with you.
GNOH – Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Suzanne – Talk about myself, one of my weakest points. I’m fairly simply, enjoy little things in life, love my dog, enjoy reading and writing, and have a weakness for dark chocolate and Legos. I also love to learn, and try out new hobbies. So far I have become a descent gardener, woodworker, BBQer, and am now working on taking my writing more seriously.
GNOH – Legos, you mean those horrible little plastic blocks? Sorry I have a pathological hatred of them. What do you build?
Yes, I mean those horrible liitle blocks, you have a lot of anger there, want to talk about it? I developed a fondness for them when I was a kid, my father was an engineer so while others were building houses, he was teaching me the proper way to balance bridge supports and the like. Also, I have found that when my anxiety gets bad, it is nice to dump a few hundred on the floor and zone out, sometimes I end up with a three foot tall house, others a fortress, most of the time uncategorized.
GNOH – Your blog is called Ramblings of an Anxiety Ridden Mind…, are you like me an anxious person? How do you deal with it?
Suzanne – Absolutely, the title of my blog comes from a collection of short stories I wrote that are creative non-fiction. They run along the lines of David Sedaris and Chelsea Handler without all the sex and booze. I write the stories from the perspective of someone with panic disorder; anxious people tend to see things differently than those who do not suffer from it.
As for how I deal with it, depends on the day. Some days are easier than others. If I can immerse myself in a project, or story I can fight it well. Other days it is harder, the anxiety makes me so nervous I have too much energy to sit still.
I hope one day to have it fully under control, as it can be quite horrible at times.
GNOH – You have a degree in anthropology, what do think defines humans?
Suzanne – From all my readings about humans from the beginning of time until now, I would have to say we are defined by our curiosity. We always want to learn more, push boundaries, explore the unexplored, come up with a new idea, new plot, new character, new plants, create hybrids, cure illnesses that puzzle us, or see if a new type of shoe will help us lose weight.
Unfortunately, I think this curiosity will be what does us in. Pushing a boundary too far, or messing around with some disease in a petrie dish that should be left alone.
GNOH – So I should really stop trying to decipher this ancient tome covered in human flesh?
Not at all, if curiosity is making you do it, it is in your nature. However, I would not recite anything you uncover in said tome covered in human flesh.
GNOH – And a BA in Psychology, these degrees must surely give you a bonus when creating he characters that you write about? Do you try and create characters that are more complex than your typical protagonist in a horror novel?
Suzanne – The combined degrees definitely help me with character development. I have studied so many facets of people, from how they develop culture, to disorders of the mind, and developmental processes, that I can more easily flesh out a character with quirks and mannerisms giving them a more authentic feel, at least I think I do. I do like to lighten things up a bit and tend to make my characters have odd quirks, or ones people secretly relate to. For example I wrote a story about a guy who only liked to drink a special blend of coffee, the editor commented saying he immediately identified with that character because he did the same thing.
I approach my horror writing differently than most, probably because I am new to the genre. I spend a good portion of the beginning building up characters, planting distrust, false leads, making the unlikeable likable and vice versa. My stories are most definitely character driven, and rely on the inner dialogue of the protagonist and what they perceive to be happening around them. Then I like to stir it all up at the end, and surprise people.
GNOH – Can you remember what first caused you to put pen to paper?
Suzanne – I can, it is a bit of an embarrassing story I guess. I was about five years old and was having my first friend spend the night. I am an only child and this was years ago before video video and VCR’s. I thought it would be fun if we wrote stories all night, so I got out pencils, and crayons, and then took papers and cut them to the size of the novels my parents had. I think my first story was about bunnies we had taken in and looked after.
GNOH – At least it’s not like my sons first story about a grumpy bear losing his hair. I still maintain it’s about the Mrs.
I am sure it is, and that sounds a lot better than what I came up with. Maybe one day you will be interviewing him, if so I would skip the question about his first story, for the sake of the Mrs.
GNOH – What is the draw of horror for you, do you enjoy being scared?
Suzanne – The first scary movie I ever saw was the original Night of the Living dead, since that time horror has been a weird love hate relationship with me. On one hand, I love to watch the movies and be scared. On the other hand, I hate the nightmares I have afterwards.
At the time I enjoy being scared, it is the after part when the lights go out, and my imagination clicks on that I don’t like being scared so much.
That fear is what draws me to it the horror genre though, I want to overcome it. When I write it is not to make others scared, it is actually to make myself less scared. If I can write something scary and be okay, then everything is okay. It makes sense in my head.
GNOH – And what does scare you, for me it’s nuns, heights, and large bodies of open water.
Suzanne – There are quite a few things that scare me, zombies, sharks, and spiders. Zombies because I am still traumatized by the Night of the Living Dead, and sharks because my parents let me see Jaws when I was far too young.
Spiders, I am scared of because I lived in Arizona for a bit. I went swimming one day and there was this dark blob in the water trying to come at me, I went over to it and saw it was a tarantula. Not only was it swimming, it was swimming for me. I grabbed a flip flop and tried to guide it to the side of the pool, finally getting up onto the concrete. As soon as it hit, thousands of baby tarantulas crawled off her back and spread all over the ground.
GNOH – Thanks for that, anywhere else I should cross off my places to visit list?
Hmm, there are so many, at least for me. Not sure if you ever heard of a potato bug. Found out about these when I lived in California; I was sitting on the patio and heard a noise, similar to walking. I thought it was a bird, or a small lizard. I turned around to see a yellowing thing, with three separate body parts each a little bit bigger than a marble. The eyes were visible from about ten feet away. I thought it was an alien, and researched what the heck it was. Most sites agreed and claimed they were from Mars. Perhaps they were joking, but after seeing it, and being able to hear an insect walking, my guess is alien.
I am sure you could skip out on the Grand canyon with that fear of heights you have, looking over the edge just might do you in. I also consider Australia the continent of death, it has 9 out of 10 of the most venomous snakes, and spiders, and great whites, so that place is really my living nightmare.
GNOH – And what’s the draw of comedy?
Suzanne – The draw of comedy, well that’s easy, I love to make people laugh, usually at my own expense. Another reason is I enjoy laughing, I find (for me at least) it is much harder to make me laugh than it is to scare me or make me cry. I like the challenge in writing something that makes someone laugh out loud because the imagery, dialogue, quirkiness, whatever it may be, is so well done they can’t keep it in.
GNOH – Which do you find the hardest to write?
Suzanne – Gory fight sequences are the toughest for me. I always need to ask people to read it over, get input, and search for unique items and locations. Then when it comes to the gore, or description of what happens after a punch, bullet hole, burn, or other violent act I am at sea. They are something I really need to work on, I am trying to read more books of that genre to gain some perspective, but think at times you either have a knack for it or you don’t.
GNOH – Who are some of your favourite authors?
Suzanne – Christopher Moore, Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, Chuck Palahniuk, early Dean Koontz, David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman, Jeff Lindsay (the Dexter series is a guilty pleasure)
GNOH – How would you describe your writing style? Do you prefer quiet horror or do you go for a more splatterfest type horror?
Suzanne – My writing style, quiet horror with a lot of humour thrown in when possible, the occasional splatter scene, but not typically blood spatter. I usually have to ask an editor before I submit if humour is allowed, they say try it and send it in. So far this has worked with many of my stories.
In all honesty I have different styles, and am trying to find the one that works best, rooting for comedy horror hybrid.
GNOH – What do you find is the hardest part of being a writer?
Suzanne – For me, it is mood. I mentioned before about the anxiety, if it is too bad I can’t write. At times certain rejections can get me so down, and I understand it is part of the process, but the anxiety ridden part of my brain just beats me up relentlessly. Then what happens is a writer’s block of sorts. Once I get in that headspace where my writing sucks, it is very difficult to get out of.
GNOH – How exactly do you write, do you lock yourself away from the world or do you write when you can, where you can?
Suzanne – I write in my dining room, when I can. I tend to have more time in the colder months because there is less yard maintenance and the draw of the pool is not there. For the most part, write when I can, though for ideas I lock myself away with a pad a paper.
GNOH – You have had something like 36 acceptances in a six month period, were these stories written during this period or did they represent and much longer time frame of writing?
Suzanne – All those stories were written during that time. I would see a submission call that peaked my interest and write a story for it. Once I get an idea or interest in a story I have to write it. One submission call I caught the day before it closed, and managed to write a 7,000 word story and get it accepted. I was quite shocked, lol.
I think the anxiety has a lot to do with being able to write so much; I hate deadlines, or having things looming over my head. The more I have done and off my plate, the less I have to stress about.
The only stories I have written before then, are the collection of non-fiction essays I mentioned earlier.
GNOH – Did you have many rejections during this period? How did you deal with them?
Suzanne – I did have a few rejections, I would say about 15 or so, but many of them were accepted elsewhere. The first one was the toughest, and then the second one sucked pretty bad too. After that they were all pretty horrible.
I am not good with rejection, which is funny because in any other aspect of my life I can take it and move right on. With my writing though, I take it so personally, like it is a rejection of me as a person. I need to work on that, and certainly need to find a way to deal with them better.
GNOH – Do you prefer writing short stories over novels, or do you think the short story format is a form of cutting your teeth and honing your craft, before tackling the longer form?
Suzanne – In the beginning I liked the short story format, as you say I cut my teeth on it. As I began to write more though, my stories got more complex and came awfully close to word limits, or went over them.
I feel as though I have outgrown them in a way, some I will still try for, but the word count needs to be flexible. When I see a 3,000 maximum, I have to say no because that is the part where I am just getting to the good part of my story usually.
I feel now I am ready to tackle the longer form, though I hope it does not tackle me back, and send me running for the security of short stories.
GNOH – Can you tell us about the Anxiety Disorders Anthology?
Suzanne – The Anxiety Disorders Anthology is something I am editing for Hidden Thoughts Press. It is a non-fiction press, that is going to be putting out a line of books to help people both in the mental health field, and those who are suffering from various disorders.
The Anxiety one is close to my heart because when I was first diagnosed, the only books out were workbooks on phobias, and books about gaining your power back. When I would read them and not feel any better, I felt like a failure. I had read the book wrong I didn’t do it right.
For years I felt like I was going crazy, and isolated myself, kept my fears to myself, and assumed since everyone else was okay I was the one who was broken. As I began to research and finally get a diagnosis, I realized that far more people have anxiety that the world realizes.
A while ago I had a decision to make, hide my anxiety and risk losing jobs and promotions, or use my knowledge and experience with it to help people, and become an advocate for those suffering. Obviously, I went with option number two, I’ve never been one to hide who I am.
So, Anxiety Disorders was born, and I am going to fill it with stories of real people who have anxiety, who have overcome it, who have learned to deal with it, or cope with it in healthy manners.
Already the response has been huge; the number of people who want a copy so they can see proof they are not alone and get some tips at the same time is overwhelming.
GNOH – Your debut novel has recently been accepted for publication, is there anything you can tell us about it?
Suzanne – The title of the novel is Z-Boat, and is based on an idea I had about ten years ago. Zombie movies have taken place in just about every place you can imagine, but the one issue I have always had is, why don’t people just get in their car and leave, other than the zombie what scares you?
I decided to come up with a story in which the people were trapped with the zombies, there is no out, and the location is dangerous as well. It takes place on a submarine, which is already a tight and claustrophobic environment with odd noises and dark places throughout.
The first half is character and plot development, some social commentary on what we are doing to the environment, and then the last half is the zombies. Though the end has a twist, the zombies are not exactly like the ones you normally read about. I tend to challenge norms and clichés, sometimes it works, others not so much.
GNOH – What type of zombies are in the novel?
They are zombies that are strong, can move quickly, manipulate objects, think ahead, and work together because of the way they were infected, to say more would give away an important plot point.
GNOH – Have you tried to give them a unique selling point?
I think there are a lot of unique points (at least I hope so). The location, the lack of ability to escape really amps up the fear and danger the characters feel. When something goes wrong, they need to go and fix it, or they will sink and implode.
The claustrophobic environment of the submarine, then there are a few sub plots that twist it in different directions, a bit of sabotage, new crew members with unsavoury backgrounds, and as mentioned the way the zombies become infected is not typical, and is actually somewhat realistic.
GNOH – Have given a reason for the zombies, or do you take a leap of faith?
There is a reason, no leap of faith at all. The book takes place several years from now, and the world has become this wasteland. Right now we are blowing up the mood looking for water, but to me with the privatization of NASA I do not see that as a viable option. Eventually we will have to look for alternate fule, food, and water sources. Problem is we have put so much crap into the oceans and irradiated so many seeds, that there have to be consequences. We just do not see them today.
During my research I found out that nuclear subs dump a certain amount of radiated water into the ocean. Considering how many countries have those types of subs, and for the government to say a little, in my book means more than we would really like. Just imagine what is happening, the mutations to the fish, and other plant life. It is not unrealistic to think in 50 years from now, something nasty could result from all the polluting we have done.
GNOH – What challenges did the novel through up?
Suzanne – There were two main challenges for me, one was the ending section where the fight scenes occurred. I had to do a lot of research on what type of weapons would be on a submarine, as well as the layout. Writing all the gory bits were tough as they are my weakest point, and there is also little humour. I have a few lines of dialogue that are funny, but for the most part it is my first attempt at no comedy base to a story, so that was also a bit of a challenge.
Second was the amount of research I had to do. I spent the better part of two months researching everything available on submarines, the various depths of the ocean, and how many pounds of pressure per square inch a sub can take. What a submersible can do, how the circuits work, and then had to revamp it a bit since the story takes place several years from now. I wanted the story to have as much of the ring of accuracy as possible.
GNOH – What can we expect from you in the future?
Suzanne – I have plans to write two more sequels to Z-Boat, I have it set up as a trilogy, and another story that I am going to turn into a novel based on the advice of an editor, it is another take on zombies that is different from the norm.
I also have two anthologies coming out with the Twisted Library Press, Attack of the 50ft Book edited by Wayne Goodchid, and Live and Let Undead edited by Hollie Snider, they have two of my favourite stories in them.
After that I want to go through and edit my non-fiction essays and try to find a publisher for them, fingers crossed.
When we both have time, Adrian Chamberlin and I are putting together a collection called O.A.Z, Old Age Zombies.
GNOH – Thanks for popping in for a chat Suzanne, it’s always fun talking a new author.
Click the link below to Suzanne’s fiction page for links to all of the anthologies that she has appeared in.