Tales Q&A with Richie Tankersley Cusick
Do you remember the Point Horror Book Series from the 90’s? The Point Horror Series was a series of young adult point horror books and was launched in 1991 by Scholastic always with the Point Horror banner on the spine and on the top of every point horror book. There were a number of authors that wrote these books for Scholastic: R L Stine, Diane Hoh, Caroline B Cooney, Sinclair Smith to name but a few.
They were basically what I was reading and enjoying as a young adult and thanks to the author Juno Dawson, who started #PointHorrorBookClub on her website in 2013, I have started to re-read these books that I used to rush to the shops every weekend and buy and sit for the whole weekend reading.
Juno announced in January 2015 that she was no longer able to carry on #pointhorrorbookclub and with her blessing I am going to try and carry it on with version 2! Juno has done a fantastic job – I hope I can keep up her good work *gulps*
For links to #pointhorrorbookclub posts old and new please click here
The #pointhorrorbookclub have read a number of Point Horror Books by Richie Tankersley Cusick including…..
And we still have many more to revisit!
These books are most definately memorable from the Point Horror era and I have had the absolute honour of putting some questions to Richie!
For this task I recruited some awesome #pointhorrorbookclub members as well as myself with some burning questions for Richie! Thanks for all of the brilliant questions!
For links to #pointhorrorbookclub posts old and new please click here
NB – as this is a discussion this will contain spoliers!
About Richie Tankersley Cusick
Richie Tankersley Cusick was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on April Fools Day. Being an only child, she began at an early age to invent invisible friends and special worlds of her own, which sparked her passion for writing.
Among her first and fondest memories is living alongside the bayou in the small town of Barataria. Rich with legends and folklore, this area was once frequented by the pirate Jean Lafitte, who supposedly hid his treasure within the dark shadows of Bayou Barataria. The influence of Southern mystery and charm was overwhelming to a little girl’s imagination–ruins of old plantation houses, aboveground cemeteries, moss-draped oak trees, crumbling churches, shrimp boats, old drawbridges, haunted roads, and the murky waters of the bayou. Many of these childhood experiences would prove to be major inspiration for her books. She would love the South always.
When Richie was old enough to start school, the family moved to the suburbs where they shared their home with a ghost. Though her growing- up years were spent in Louisiana, summers were spent in Missouri with her grandparents, where she received regular—and fascinating—doses of Ozark superstitions and folk tales. She attended Riverdale High School, then went on to the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now called UL Lafayette) in Lafayette (Cajun capital of the world!) where she graduated with a BA in English and a minor in English history.
Soon after graduation she moved to Kansas City, where she worked as a writer at Hallmark Greeting Cards for nine years. Once again, her house was inhabited by a ghost. Upon publication of her first book—Evil On The Bayou—she left Hallmark and began writing books full time.
Twenty-eight books later, she now lives in North Carolina with her two cocker spaniels, Audrey and Halle Berry, and shih tzu, Emma, and is currently at work on a new novel. She writes at an antique rolltop desk which was once owned by a funeral director. And yes…it’s haunted.
You can find out more about Richie and her books on her website – www.richietankersleycusick.com
I am so excited to have Richie talk to us today!
Here we talk about the Point Horror brand, experiences, writing and haunted desks!
*breaks out buttery popcorn and settles in for the ride!*
Hi Richie. Welcome to Tales Of Yesterday and to #pointhorrorbookclub! Thank you so much for stopping by! We are so excited and thrilled and excited to have you here!
Hi, everyone! I feel so honored, being asked to participate in your Point Horror Club. In fact it’s been so long since I wrote books for Point, I’m actually shocked that anyone even remembers me! I hang my head in shame that it’s taken me so long to get back with you—punctuality has never been one of my virtues. But I felt it was important to dig deeply into your thought-provoking questions, hoping I’d be very thorough with my answers. All the questions were so interesting—some I’d never even considered before—and I found the interview to be both fun and challenging. I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m too wordy with my replies—this is precisely why I’ve never been good at short stories!
Firstly, yay to Point Horror…we have re-read three of your contributions to Point Horror so far, Teachers Pet, April Fools and Trick Or Treat. We can’t wait to re-read more! I always remember Fatal Secrets being my personal fave so we will have to re-read that one soon.
So some of the #PointHorrorBookClub have put together some (maybe too many) questions for you….we are all very excited!
Chelle, I’m thrilled that you and your group have become fans of Point Horror—especially because it’s been years since the books were published. Does that mean they’d be considered vintage now? 🙂 However, I’d like to clarify that my only Point books were THE LIFEGUARD, TRICK OR TREAT, APRIL FOOLS, AND TEACHERS PET. Readers often—and understandably so—think that the rest of my books were published under the Point banner, when in fact, only those four were part of the list. I had a happy and productive stay at Point but then moved on to other publishers. I’m so flattered that your personal favorite is FATAL SECRETS—but that one was published by Archway, as were most of my other titles. So now I’ll dive in and tackle your questions—I’m very excited, too—here goes!
[Point Horror Book Club – This is really interesting – I can only presume that maybe the UK pulishers rebranded the books or bought the books under their own Point banner here in the UK. Speaking to Anne Finnis at YALC about this point it seemed that the books that they were sent to choose from were not specified as not being Point titles]
Right onto the questions!
Paul P: *waves* “Teacher’s Pet” was the first Point Horror book I ever bought and got me into reading! How did your involvement in Point Horror come about?
Hi Paul! (this is me waving back!) I really got my start with Point Horror in kind of a roundabout way, I guess. I’d written my very first book EVIL ON THE BAYOU, which was part of a series called “Twilight,” then published by Dell. The publisher liked the book very much, so I wrote another—but unfortunately the series ended before my book could be considered. In the meantime, an editor from Scholastic had read my first book and really enjoyed it—so I was asked to write a book for Point. I was given the title THE LIFEGUARD, which ended up on the Publishers Weekly Bestseller List. And that led to three more books with Point.
Chelle: How many Point Horror Books did you write all together and over how many years?
I wrote four Point books: THE LIFEGUARD, TRICK OR TREAT, TEACHER’S PET, and APRIL FOOLS, probably over the course of about four years. After that, I moved to Archway, the YA division of Simon & Schuster, where I published VAMPIRE, FATAL SECRETS, THE MALL, SILENT STALKER, HELP WANTED, THE LOCKER, THE DRIFTER, SOMEONE AT THE DOOR, OVERDUE, SUMMER OF SECRETS, STARSTRUCK, and THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR. I also published two adult books with Simon & Schuster—SCARECROW and BLOODROOTS. In addition, I wrote novelizations of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, THE HARVEST, and THE ANGEL CHRONICLES. And finally I moved to Penguin—their YA division is called Speak– where THE UNSEEN series, WALK OF THE SPIRITS, and SHADOW MIRROR were published. THE UNSEEN was originally a four-book series, but later was also combined into two volumes, THE UNSEEN 1 and THE UNSEEN 2. Speak also came out with a book called SPIRIT WALK, in which both WALK OF THE SPIRITS and SHADOW MIRROR were combined into one volume.
Paul P: Did you write the Point Horror stories based on titles given to you or were you allowed to make up the titles?
For all four of my Point books, I was given specific titles to work with. I remember when I was given the title THE LIFEGUARD (my first Point book). They told me the cover would have a picture of a rather ominous-looking lifeguard on it. And I was thinking, if there’s already a picture of a lifeguard on the cover, and the title is THE LIFEGUARD, then the “bad guy” is pretty much given away already, right??? So I came up with the idea of having three different lifeguards in the book, so even though the reader knew that a lifeguard was the bad guy, they wouldn’t know WHICH lifeguard was the bad guy!!!
Mark: Several of your PH titles seem to have started life outside the PH stable. How did they end up being released under the banner?
Actually, I really hadn’t started on any of my Point books until the titles were assigned to me. Then the challenge was to come up with a suspenseful idea that would reflect the title. My main goal was always to make the book much scarier and more involved than the actual title sounded. I always wanted to give my readers more than they’d bargained for.
Chelle: What was the process of Point Horror publication like for you? Caroline B Cooney, in another #pointhorrorbookclub Q&A gave the impression that it was somewhat of a factory mentality, churning books out based on titles that would appeal to readers?
My personal belief is that Point did have a specific group of writers they very much respected and used for their YA horror genre. I’m thinking that Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine were probably their most successful authors—both were amazingly prolific, and I always admired their ability to turn out so many books so quickly. I can’t speak for them, but in my own experience, I never felt like I was expected to do any sort of “factory” thing and just churn out book after book. After THE LIFEGUARD was published, I was given TRICK OR TREAT to work with; after that I was given a 2-book contract which included my other two Point titles. And though I was assigned specific deadlines, I never felt the presssure to become a” book machine.!”
Paul H: We have come to realise that some of the more prolific Point Horror authors (Stine, Hoh) were occasionally ghost-written. Were you ever approached to ghost-write for a fellow PH author?
No, I was never asked to do any ghost writing for Point. The closest thing I can compare that to, is being asked to write novelizations for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL when I was with Archway. In those cases, I was given the actual scripts written by Joss Whedon (the creator of Buffy and Angel), and my job was to flesh them out into book form. The books were a lot of fun because basically, they’d already been written.
Chelle: Did you have to work towards a specific word count for Point Horror?
Although I’ve never been a writer concerned with “word count,” my books always seemed to be around 225-250 pages. We probably were given guidelines about the actual book length, but I don’t really remember them, and my books just always seemed to end up at that particular length.
Mark: How long did it take on average to write a PH book?
On average, most of my books took around three months to write. I always did two to three drafts before I was satisfied with a complete manuscript. But after I turned in a manuscript, I’d then have many consultations with my editor, where we’d discuss different ways to make the book better. Then I’d go back and edit and rewrite till we both agreed that the book was the very best it could be. The books actually came out about a year to a year and a half after they were written and given final approval.
Cazzy: Which book did you enjoy writing most and which character was your favourite?
Boy, that’s a tough one! With every book I write, a little of myself stays locked inside it forever, and the characters stay locked inside ME forever. But even though each and every book has a special meaning and memory, there are always some that just seem a little more special than others. Of my Point titles, TRICK OR TREAT is probably my favorite. Conor will always be one of my most favorite characters, and I enjoyed every second I spent with him. I’ve even had readers ask me to write a sequel to TRICK OR TREAT, focusing on Conor and his future relationship with Martha. A wonderful idea, I agree—but one I haven’t pursued yet.
Paul H: Which of your Point Horrors are you most proud of?
That’s another tough one. I guess THE LIFEGUARD will always be a souce of pride to me because it was my very first Point title and also my very first really successful book. There were a lot of challenges involved with it, and I was a very new, very enthusiastic writer, who really wanted to do a good job. I remember my concern about the book being on a beach, because I’d never really had any experience of being around beaches. So I went to AAA and got every travel book I could get my hands on, everything about beaches and coastal areas. I went through every book and wrote down tons of information about beaches—details and descriptions such as flora and fauna, boats, water, lighthouses, sand, shells, weather—every possible thing I could think of that was beach-related. I made lists of words and phrases. I kept the lists close at hand while I wrote. Most of those details found their way into the book, gave it a realistic atmosphere, made it come alive. After the book was published, I had so many readers tell me that Beverly Island was just like the coasts where they lived or vacationed, that my beaches made them feel like they were actually there. That really made me feel good, that I’d achieved exactly what I’d set out to do.
Mark: Which of your PH titles do you think has aged the best?
I definitely think TRICK OR TREAT has best withstood the test of time. Readers still comment on that book, and especially on Conor. Readers still say it scared the life out of them! Yay! That’s just what I was trying to do!!! However, out of all my published books, THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR (published by Archway) seems to have remained in print the longest, and those characters are still some of my very favorites.
Paul H: With a few notable exceptions, Point Horror’s tended to stick to a few basic rules: female protagonist, brooding romantic interest, a general whodunit structure. Was it a challenge to invent compelling plots within those boundaries?
Honestly, I don’t think I was ever aware of those rules when I was writing. I basically just wrote the kinds of books I loved and that I thought teens (mainly girls) would also love. Surprisingly, I’ve heard from many boys who’ve enjoyed my books too, which really makes me happy. I’ve always written stories that I personally wanted to write, even when titles were assigned to me. I’ve always enjoyed reading YA books, both when I was a teen and also now as an adult. Before I wrote EVIL ON THE BAYOU, I read quite a few current YA horror books, focusing on what their appeal was, what teens really liked about them, and what readers’ expectations were. I remembered things that had always kept me glued to those books I’d loved reading as a teen—romance, suspense, mystery, cute guys (and mysterious cute guys), the totally unexpected, the irresistible challenge of whodunit. I think that the world in general changes with each generation, but I also feel that deep-down emotions, hopes and fears, those extremely personal issues and pressures that young adults face, really don’t change that much. Every generation is very different, but very much the same.
I always try to write books that my readers can identify with. My main character/heroine is a sort of Everygirl—a girl any female reader can relate to. My books are more character-driven, rather than plot-driven. I never use a formula or an outline, but at some point in my writing I suddenly realized that I usually have three guys—don’t ask me why, but three seems to be the magic number. I usually have very supportive best friends that the main character can confide in, whether those friends are guys or girls. The “side” characters (what I like to call them)—guys, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, eccentrics, neighbors, and especially the villains, are always much more interesting to me. They influence the direction of the book, and their interaction with the main character gradually reveals her true spirit and personality. I think you’ll find in most YA books that the adults disappear very early on, or that they make very few appearances. In my own books, the presence of grown-ups (including parents) is usually minimal, whether they’re apathetic or oblivious, out of town or deceased, etc. Even loving and concerned parents have very limited interaction; they’re only used for the purpose of further defining the teens. The idea is to leave the young adult characters pretty much on their own, so they’re forced to figure out solutions for themselves.
I try not to date my books with things like current technology or current slang, etc. Those things change so quickly; often by the time a book is published, many fads and innovations are already out of date. So I really try to concentrate on people and relationships, more than things. I don’t go into a book with the idea of moralizing or lecturing or teaching any lessons. But again, I do notice certain recurring themes in my books—like the importance of friendships, not judging by appearances, and discovering one’s true nature through adversity.
My characters must always deal with “bad surprises.” That is, they’re very normal, doing the right things, being good people, minding their own business when suddenly—through no fault of their own—they’re dealt disasters and tragedies and seemingly hopeless obstacles which they must overcome,. Through these frightening situations they find courage and strength within themselves and come out stronger in the end. An unfortunately, obstacles and challenges never go out of date.
Chelle: We have noticed a difference between the early Point Horror book and the later Point Horror books in death rates and breaking boundaries. Do you think as Point Horror became more popular the publishers loosened the reigns a little?
That’s really an insightful question. You wouldn’t believe the boundaries I had to work around when I was writing YA back then. Censorship was pretty rigid, and publishers weren’t big on gore, curse words, sex, suggestive language, etc. Yes, quite a challenge—and today their restrictions would probably be laughable!!! I’m sure that to keep up with the times, and to keep up with new challenges facing young adults, the publishers were forced to give a little—or a lot. However, in my own books, I’ve never been big on gratuitous sex, violence, or gore—not then and not now. Actual deaths and murders not-always-but-usually happen off-screen. I tend to lean more towards suggestions rather than graphic action. And yes, in SHADOW MIRROR, (SPOILER ALERT!) two characters actually have sex, but ONLY because I felt it was necessary to the plot, to move it forward, to set the stage for what might happen in their futures, and also to show the reactions/personalites of the side characters who are peripherally involved. But I’m very particular and careful about what I put into a story; I won’t write things just for the sake of shock value.
Mark: Did you plant any friends / family in your stories?
You know, sometimes I wonder if each character in a book has just a tiny bit of some person we’ve ever known, loved, or hated in our lifetimes!!! The only characters I can truly say were modeled on actual people are the Loberg sisters in THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR. They’re comical characters (in fact, one of them is based on me)—and my dear friend who recognized herself in the other sister, was totally flattered—she thought the characters were hilarious!
I LOVE my characteres, and when the book is finished, I actually go through a grieving period because I miss them so much. My characters are as real to me as any real-life person, and I live with them 24-7 for the duration of the book. For example, my last books WALK OF THE SPIRITS and SHADOW MIRROR were very different projects for me–not my usual horror themes, but more mystery-oriented (or what I like to call, my “quieter books”). I was going through a very painful time in my personal life, and these characters were with me every second of every day. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I could even have survived that time of my life without the presence and support of those characters. And do you know that even now—when I’m feeling particularly frustrated or blocked—I actually go back and re-read those two books just to be with those beloved characters again? Yes…I admit, this writer is a bit eccentric that way!
Chelle: Have you read any other Point Horrors? Which one was your favourite?
Yes, I’ve definitely read books by Point authors, though I certainly couldn’t pick a particular favorite.. In fact, I’ve read many YA authors who inspired me and influenced my desire to write YA. There are so many good authors out there, it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite.
Paul H: Which of your Point Horror stablemates (other Point Horror authors) did you rate the highest? Did you ever meet any of them?
I honestly couldn’t rate any of the other authors—they all have their own different and very exclusive styles, which appeal to such a wide variety of readers. I remember when I first started writing professionally, Christoper Pike and I were attending a conference together, and he was kind enough to share some writing advice with me, a truly unselfish gesture I’ve always appreciated. I also love John Peel—one of my most admired authors and a special friend, even though –sadly—we’ve lost touch over the years. R.L. Stine and I also became very good friends and did some book signings together, though—once again, regrettably–I haven’t seen him for many years. As for myself, I’ve always had a very strict policy: I NEVER read any YA books while I’m writing one. I don’t want any other books creeping into my subconscious to influence me in any way, shape or form. Once I finish writing my own YA book, however, then I’ll start reading teen books again. The same rule applied when I wrote my two adult books. I wouldn’t even consider reading another adult book while I was involved with my own—so while I was immersed in writing my own adult book, that’s when I’d switch to reading YA.
Chelle: Which of your Point Horror characters would you most like to go to dinner with?
Dinner? Do they actually have time to go to dinner in between dodging perilous situations???? Of course, it would have to be Conor from TRICK OR TREAT. Cute, witty, mysterious, and loyal to the end—who wouldn’t want to have dinner with him??? But if you asked me about any of my other books, I’d have to say Charlie from THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR, and especially Gage and Etienne from the WALK books.
Mark: Trick or Treat was adapted for the short lived PH audiobook collection. What did you think of that version and did you get any input into it?
You know, I don’t think I ever actually listened to it the whole way through—and since I can’t even remember it now, I don’t know how to answer your question. However, I had no input at all—I don’t remember even knowing about it till I received a copy in the mail!!!
Chelle: If you had to write one more PH what would you call it?
How about MEGA-BESTSELLER???? Seriously though, I have so many titles spinning around in my head, but I won’t reveal them here. What if other writers saw them and decided to use them for their own books??!! 🙂
Cazzy: where do your ideas come from?
Cazzy, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’m asked that question—and every time I feel totally baffled by it. Some ideas come from the most obvious places; other ideas come without warning from my own head. Here are just a few examples I can think of: Reading books; watching movies; looking at pictures; traveling; studying places and scenery; current events; being aware of one’s surroundings; talking to people; doing research, hearing about legends, folklore or mysteries (I have a soft spot in my heart for ghosts, especially since I grew up with one in my house, and also because have a haunted rolltop desk where I work); hearing an interesting name of a person, place, or thing (I have tons of books on names, both people and places); watching teens, their mannerisms, how they talk and interact; letting my imagination run wild. I’m particularly fond of the supernatural, gloomy atmospheres, wolves, monasteries, cemeteries, old houses (each has its own soul and personality, you know, just like a character), brooding characters, the unexplainable, and, as I mentioned before, “bad surprises.” I believe in just about everytthing–just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And evil has always fascinated me–how the mind of an evil person works (or doesn’t).
I’ve always loved watching the old, classic horror movies: Dracula (with its many renditions), Frankenstein, The Wolfman. My favorite was always The Wolfman—that desperate pathos of an innocent man suddenly finding himself helpless in the midst of a “bad surprise” (a horrific surprise, really). My heart always ached for him and his sealed fate. I’ve always loved that classic character more than all the others.
But here’s a bit of information that might interest you. And it’s about your homeland. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with England. Everything about England intrigued me, captivating and stirring my imagination. Jack the Ripper and the foggy streets of London. Yorkshire and the moors. The beautiful countryside, farmhouses, and sheep. I loved the sea-sprayed cliffs of Cornwall. I loved Victorian England. I loved British authors, legends, tales, and folklore. I loved castles, churches, monasteries, houses, old towns and villages, and English history. I loved your language and the differences in British and American words that mean the same thing (I have British dictionaries)! And, like most Americans, I love British accents and could listen to them all day!
I have a huge collection of books about England (travel, history, literature, cookbooks, etc.). I minored in English history in college. My parents gave me a trip to England for my college graduation present, and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel there four more times (or is it five?). And the whole fascination is so odd really, because when I was a child, no one ever mentioned England to me. I never heard about it from any friend or family member, and in school I even hated geography! It was if England had always been in the back of my mind, just waiting for me to discover it and explore it. Later I found out that my Tankersley ancestors had come from England. That there’s actually a town called Tankersley (which a friend and I visited; to my disappointment it was nothing like what I’d hoped it would be, but we did have a drink at a pub!).
At the risk of sounding maudlin, I’ve always felt hopelessly in love with everything British—I even adore your food (and cook it for friends!). England has always inspired me. There’s so much history and heritage, romance and passion and pride about your country—you embrace your past. And unlike so many things in America, you tend to preserve your landmarks and buildings, rather than tearing them down or replacing them in the name of “modern progress.” You are SO lucky to live there, and I am SO lucky to have gotten to visit! I’ve always felt such a strong emotional connection that I can’t really explain. Reincarnation? Subconscious memories passed down and imbedded in me from past generations? Whatever the reason, I can honestly tell you that each time I’ve traveled to England, the very second I step foot on British soil, I feel like I’m home.
So I’ve probably given you lots more information than you need. And I’m sure there are still even more ways I’m able to tap into ideas, but hopefully this will give you just a hint of where they might come from.
Mark: Which or your books (if any) do you think would adapt well for TV /film?
Please don’t think I’m impressed with myself, but I believe that ALL my books would lend themsevles perfectly for film. Interesting characters, plot twists and turns, and surprise endings. Too bad no directors, actors, or screenwriters seem to agree with me!
Paul H: What was your favourite thing about the 90’s?
Hmmm…my favorite thing…
Well, since I live in my own world and imagination most of the time, I can only tell you one of my favorite memories Sitting in my office at my rolltop desk (the haunted one, you know), with snow falling outside my window, and the white-powdered trees brushing the windowpane. A cup of hot spiced tea steaming on the table beside me…my cocker spaniels curled up and snoozing on the couch…the scent from a pumpkin-spice candle (anything pumpkin is wonderful) filling the room. Scary soundtrack music playing in the background, pictures of my characters pinned on the bulletin board above my desk, And having a wonderfully productive day full of inspiring ideas, perfect plots, and characters who’ve spoken to me and told me where they want to go and what they want to do next. What could be better?
Cazzy: How do you think the YA genre has changed since the 90s?
Wow, there’ve been so many changes. You won’t find the strict censorship that was common back then. No more passive female characters—they’ve now become stronger and self-reliant, leaders in their own right. There are now more series and sagas. More action and fantasy, apocalyptic worlds. More heroes and villains. To me, it seems there are fewer boundaries or restrictions now as to what an author can create. Books now, as in generations past, tend to reflect the scary times we live in, the fears, the uncertainties, the need for some control over our destinies. There’s so much more variety in books now, more obstacles to overcome, more complicated plot layers. Writers are a lot more free now to express themselves and their wildest ideas. I think in this day and age—anything goes.
Cazzy: do you think PH could make a comeback for today’s teens/pre-teens?
That’s a very interesting question and hard to predict. Readers will always have very subjective, very personal tastes in books. If you go into a bookstore nowadays, you’ll see shelves display themes of every kind. Some readers prefer more action-oriented books; some prefer more introspective novels. Some enjoy fantasy; others prefer reality. Some love to enter past or future worlds; others like to stay grounded in more familiar, everyday experiences. Novels have a way of going through cycles. What’s popular today often saturates the market to the point where readers feel they’ve read it all before. And then some new trend comes along to take the place of the current fad. I think romance will always be popular, no matter what form it takes, and that readers will always love the challenge of a good mystery and the fun of a good scare, no matter where the plot is set. So who knows? It’s almost impossible to predict what young adults will clamor for next. All I can say is that young adults—and publishers–are always searching for that next great idea.
Tara: I would love to find out if there are plans for more books? YA horror is quite popular and I believe there is certainly a market for it. I want more Point Horror!
Tara, I certainly can’t speak for Point Horror. As I mentioned before, it seems that genres tend to run in cycles. But I believe that people, no matter what age, always long for and enjoy a good scare. That’s why I think horror will always be popular. With the horror genre, readers can always convince themselves that the fear and danger aren’t real. If they get frightened, they can always close the book or walk away from the film. I think horror is both compelling but also fun. Can anyone predict what the next trend will be, or where it will take us? There are so many possibilities out there, and so many good writers with so many wonderful ideas—to me, horror will always be around, in one form or another.
Chelle: I’d love to know what you’re up to now and where Point Horror has taken your career? Do you still write horror? Is it a favourite genre of yours?
I’ll always be grateful to Point Horror for giving me the opportunity to write and hone my craft. Having worked with both positive and negative editors, I learned the importance of listening, compromising, and working together as a team to make the book as good as it can be. I published my first bestseller there. With each book written, I learned so much, which moved me forward into even more creative experiences. I’ll always be indebted to them for taking a chance on me.
Yes, I still write horror, and I’ll always love it. I remember that as a child, I was seldom frightened by scary movies—in fact, I loved the suspense and the spooky atmospheres, could usually guess the ending, and was especially excited when a plot actually fooled or frightened me.
And though I’ve recently taken time off from writing, I’m currently at work on a new book—scary, of course!
Chelle: Could you tell us a little about some of your other books?
All my other books are horror/thrillers, except for WALK OF THE SPIRITS and SHADOW MIRROW, which I consider to be more mystery than horror. The reason for this change is that my last editor didn’t want me to write a horror novel—she wanted something that was much tamer. It was difficult for me to switch gears, but I really got lost in those books. I grew–and remain–especially close to those characters, and loved being part of their close-knit group. As one reader said to me, “Who WOULDN’T want to be part of a group like that?” I always try to fill my novels with surprise twists and turns and compelling characters—except for the BUFFY and ANGEL novelizations, in which the plots and characters were already written.
Paul H: Who are your favourite authors?
I don’t think there’s enough room to list them all here! My earliest inspiration was, naturally, Nancy Drew! I also loved Margaret Mahy, Joan Aiken, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume, Margaret Mahy, and Joan Lowery Nixon. Later I grew into Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Thomas Hardy. I read and still love to read what were then called Gothic Romances—now they’re referred to as Romantic Suspense. These books heavily influenced me heavily with their dark heroes, gloomy settings, eerie old houses, and trapped heroines. I loved Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, Susan Howatch, Daphne du Maurier, and Phyllis Whitney. I really enjoy Nora Roberts, Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwell, Tami Hoag, and Jeffery Deaver. But really, it’s so hard to narrow down the field, because there are so many amazing authors out there, and I don’t have the space here to name them all.
Amy: What was the first horror novel that you remember reading?
To be honest, I don’t remember the first horror novel I ever read. I just know that I always loved scary books and scary movies—mainly because I found them so fascinating and fun instead of scary. And those that succeeded in actually scaring me, I considered quite brilliant.
Chelle: Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
You might refer to Paul’s question above. I’m afraid I got carried away with my answer but actually listed only a handful of authors that inspired me and made me want to be a writer.
But here’s a funny story for you: when I was in grade school, we were asked to write an original story. I wrote a very short “book” called TOMMY LIZARD’S FIRST HALLOWEEN. I wrote it with much flair and drama, complete with illustrations. By the way, I’m a terrible artist; I have no talent at all. But I still proceeded to tell the story of Tommy Lizard trick-or-treating from house to house until he finally got ahold of a black jelly bean, which made him very sick. I ended the book with my brilliant rendering of poor Tommy Lizard throwing up the black jelly bean.. then smiling and saying “Bye Bye!” And do you know, I still have that story, written in pencil on wide-ruled paper? Yes, my very first novel (and artistic endeavor), three very creative pages long!
Chelle: Are there any authors you would like to collaborate with? Who?
You know, I’ve never thought about collaborating with another author. I’m very much a loner, and I totally need my solitude to create the world I’m writing about. I completely immerse myself in the book I’m working on at the moment—I seldom see friends, pick up the phone, or answer the door. I even rarely leave the house, because I don’t want to step outside of my special book-world. Even when I take a physical break from writing, I’m still writing and thinking in my head so that I don’t break the spell of the book. As I’ve said, the characters are very real to me; I even speak to them out loud to make sure their dialogue is natural, believable, and revealing. I try to build a world so realistic, that my readers feel like they’re actually there, that they actually know and participate with the characters. I don’t do outlines—if I try to plot things out, then I feel like I’ve already written the book and can’t write it over again. I never try to guess ahead when I write. Just like the reader, I’m totally surprised at what happens next in the book. For me, it’s like watching a movie unfold. I basically create the characters, let them go, and watch them tell their story. I simply follow their lead and don’t ever know how the book is going to end—or who the bad guy is—till I’m nearly finished with the first draft. And the funny thing is, I’m always surprised! “OMG, you’ve got to be kidding! I didn’t know he/she was going to be the villain!!!! I had no clue it would end this way!!!!!”
Amy: Are there any books or films that have scared you?
I don’t scare easily, but yes, there are definitely some books and films that have scared me. Stephen King’s THE SHINING kept me glued to every page; I couldn’t put it down. I really disliked the movie—to me, it didn’t capture one bit of the book’s brilliance, and I was very disappinted in its interpretation. Two films that still scare me (even though I’ve seen them a million times) are THE HAUNTING (the original, not the remake) and THE CHANGELING. I didn’t see the ends coming, and the incidents leading up to the climaxes were really unnerving!
Amy: Why do you think people like to be scared?
Of course, this is only my personal opinion, but to some people it’s just plain fun. Fun to be scared because people know it’s a safe scare. If a reader gets scared, he/she only has to close the book. If a movie-watcher gets scared, he/she only has to leave the theatre or change the channel on the TV. It’s a way of controlling those things we can’t predict or understand; it’s a way of having some control in this frightening, unpredictable world.
In my workshops I always suggest to students that they turn off the sound on their TVs but continue watching the show—then try to imagine what the characters might be saying. Conversely, I suggest that students close their eyes while watching a show–then try to imagine what the characters are doing while only hearing them talk. It’s a good way to learn about action and dialogue, how to make your characters real, and how to create suspense.
I also tell my students that less is more, and it’s a self-imposed rule I try to follow as well. If too much is spelled out to the reader (too much gore, too many scares without any relief, etc.), the book loses its impact. Readers can become de-sensitized, the book becomes boring, and often never gets finished. However, if a writer puts just enough in to tease and tempt the reader, put them on an emotional roller coaster of clues and suggestions—then the reader’s imagination will take over. And once that happens, a reader’s imagination will create scenes even more graphic and horrifying than anything a writer could ever write.
Horror is a way to express strong negative emotions that would never be acceptable in normal society. Horror is challenging—one never knows what will happen next. Horror stays with you long after the initial fear is over—it makes you afraid of the dark, it makes you check under the bed and in your closet, makes you want to leave the light on. I believe the fear of the unknown is something we all share, a feeling of powerlessness, a fear of what lies ahead that we can’t guess or imagine. And in reading or watching horror, we have some control over the bad and scary things in life. Horror has been around since the beginning of time, and I believe it will be around forever.
Chelle: What do you think makes a good story?
I think that to every author, to every reader, the idea of a good story is purely subjective. What I look for and enjoy in a book will probably be different from another person’s preference. But speaking for myself, I think a good story is one that sucks the reader in. That transports them from their actual world into the book-world, that makes them believe the characters are real, that makes them experience thoughts and actions so completely that it’s as if the story is truly happening to them. Characters that the reader can relate to and identify with. Situations that make the reader think, feel, and react. And most of all, a good story is one which shows the reader that he/she isn’t alone. That other people (represented by the characters) experience the same emotions and struggles that readers experience. To me it’s important for a reader to finish the book with a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and connection. If I can do that with any one of my books, then I feel I’ve done my job successfully.
Thank you so much Richie for taking the time to answer these questions and feature on Tales Of Yesterday and #pointhorrorbookclub. We all love your contributions to Point Horror and wish there were more! It really is an honour and I look forward to reading more of your books!
And thank you for allowing me to meet all of you—it’s truly been a privilege. I’d just like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your interview, and I sincerely wish I could meet each and every one of you in person. Your questions have inspired me and reminded me once again why I love doing this for a living. And if there are ever any more questions or thoughts you’d like to put out there for me, I promise to answer them to the best of my ability—I’ll even try to respond in a much more timely manner! So thank you again for allowing me to meet with all of you and for taking the time to think of me. I hope you continue enjoying scary books. Horror writers need more great readers like you!
So there you have it #pointhorrorbookclub! Richie answered everything we asked! I think it was nice to read another slightly different side to the story of Point Horror and how they came to be. Richie seemed to have a mix of free reign and structure with her Point Horror experience which is fascinating! Nice to see that the publishing team came up with some of the titles again…this seems to be the common ground of creating Point Horror! I also love Richie’s stories too!.
What did you all think?
Why not join in Point Horror Book Club and the discussion on the 13th of every month?
Don’t forget to use the #pointhorrorbookclub on twitter so I can see your thoughts or tweet me using @chelleytoy
Are the Point Horror books we loved as a teenager still our favourites on the re-read? Are you new to Point Horror? Has our opinion changed? Are they still as good? Do they stand up to modern day YA Horror? Or are the a whole load of cray cray?
You can find links to all #PointHorrorBookClub posts old and new here
Another huge huge thank you to Richie for featuring on Tales and a huge round of applause for such a fab answers! And thank you Point Horror Book Club members yet again for fab questions!
*claps hands excitedly*
Do you remember Point Horror? Which was your favourite? Would you like to join in on #pointhorrorbookclub ?
Happy Point Horror-ing!