Tales Point Horror Book Club – Q&A with Diane Hoh
#PointHorrorBookClub was created by author Juno Dawson in 2013. Juno announced in 2015 that she was no longer able to carry on so, with her blessing, I took over the reins.
Are the Point Horror books we loved as a teenager still our favourites on a re-read? Have they not stood the test of time? After a hit of nostalgia? Or are you new to Point Horror and want to see what its all about?
Today we have something a little different and exciting!
Diane Hoh is one of my absolute favourite Point Horror authors and with the help of Steve from the Point Horror Facebook group we managed to do some digging and I got in contact with the lady herself. This was no mean feat as Diane Hoh doesn’t have a website or socials so it took some doing!
So grab your favourite Diane Hoh book and settle in with a cuppa for a #PointHorrorBookClub Q&A!
Q&A with Diane Hoh
Want to explore previous #PointHorrorBookClub posts or Q&A’s? I’ve got you! Head to the main page here
Welcome to Tales of Yesterday and Point Horror Book Club! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions – we are very excited to have you here!
Point Horror was the UK banner that some of the books were released under, but also known as Point in other countries – for the purpose of the chat I will refer to them as Point Horror, but please feel free to talk about any other books under different banners ?
Thanks for contacting me. As I mentioned, I have a special fondness in my heart for the UK, so it’s a delight to be contacted by one of its citizens. I shall try my best to answer all of your questions, which seem very intelligent and pointed.
Lets kick things off with the first question…..
So here goes: (This might be the appropriate spot to point out that I tend to “overwrite”. I mentioned this once to an associate editor and she replied, “You’re right, you do, but I think that’s what makes your books so interesting.” Oh. Okay, I’ll take that. Made me feel better.)
I love that Diane! Please feel free to overwrite all you like ?
Your Point Horrors were always absolute fan favourites. With titles including Funhouse, The Accident, The Train, Prom Date and the infamous Nightmare Hall series. How did writing for the Point Horror brand come about?
I hadn’t written anything in a year and was panicking. What if it was over? What if I never wrote anything again? And then one day, out of the blue, my editor called and wanted a book about, guess what, a Prom? My first thought was, oh, no, not another book about who gets to go to the prom and who doesn’t, etc.? But I was anxious to get back to work, so I agreed to do it. On almost a whim, while I was writing, I decided to put an unbalanced, obsessive stalker in (without telling my editor). It hadn’t been in the outline, so I wasn’t sure how she would feel about it. She loved it. And called to say they had decided they thought I could write thrillers. I told her they were my favourite books to read and I’d be happy to try, even though I knew that would involve some very complicated plotting. Thus was born “Funhouse”.
A lot of Point Horror authors were allocated a title to write about by their editorial team. Did this happen with your titles?
Were there any Point Horror titles that you were given that didn’t materialise into books?
Some other Point Horror authors gave the impression if was somewhat a factory mentality, churning out books based on titles that would appeal to readers whereas some other authors seemed to have freer reign? What was the process of Point Horror publication like for you?
Mine were all individual books written by me, with free rein to do as I pleased, for the most part. My editor, the late Ann Reit, and I had a very good relationship and there was mutual trust involved. (She called me “Dearie”, which I loved.)
Were there any pre-existing story ideas that you had that fitted nicely into the Point Horror brief?
Did you have any other ideas for the Point Horror titles you were given that you didn’t use and went down a different path?
Which was your favourite Point Horror to write or one which you are most proud of?
Probably “Funhouse”, simply because it was my first and I was terrified that she would hate it, that they all would, and I would never write anything again. They loved it.
Which was your favourite book to write from the Nightmare Hall series?
Again, I think “The Silent Scream” because it was the first in the series. And for the same reason as with “Funhouse”. I had already agreed to do the series, in spite of the impossible deadlines, and if they had hated the first one, how could I continue? But they loved it.
Which books seemed to be most popular based on feedback from fans back in the day?
The five individual thrillers, especially “Funhouse”, and “The Train”
Where do you / did you get your inspiration and ideas from?
I guess inside my head. I’m a “what-if” person, which is really a double-edged sword. Sometimes the “what if” is negative, as in, “What if the earth explodes? would anyone survive?”. Or it can be a positive, as in, “What if I won the lottery?” which I can’t because I never buy a ticket. But see what I mean? The mind is always going “what if this?” and “what if that?” and what else can you do with that but write?
When writing YA thrillers how important is it to plant those red herrings?
Very important as long as you don’t jerk the reader around. I can’t stand it when a write ends a chapter implying that something horrible is about to happen and then, in the opening of the following chapter it turns into nothing. Better to be authentic.
What are the key ingredients to the perfect thriller?
Oh, lordy, I don’t know. I write by instinct, I guess. The goal is to keep the reader reading, to want them to find out what’s going to happen next. If they stop caring, the writer hasn’t done a very good job. Plotting is important, especially not leaving plot holes you could drive a truck through, and that is where a concise outline helps before you actually begin the novel. You need the bad guy and the good guy and dire situations and each time a situation seems resolved, you need another one quickly to keep the reader interested. But it had all better make sense, or it’s going to look foolish and silly. Research might be necessary, and now that we all have computers, research can actually be fun. No kidding. Really. I swear.
Were any of the locations used in your Point Horror or Nightmare Hall based on real places?
Yes. The house in the “Nightmare Hall” series was loosely based on my college rooming house,. The university hadn’t been co-ed until after World War II, so had no female dorms. Those would come later. So young women had to room off-campus, and the house I shared with three other girls was the model for the house in the series. Also, in “The Train”, that last scene is loosely based on Cliff House in San Francisco. It’s one of my favourite places. I loved to stand at the stone wall (crumbling slightly at the time) and watch the waves below slam up against the base of the wall.
Are any parts of any of your stories based on any real experiences you had? Or inspired by true events?
No. Strictly fiction. Except for one exception, which I’ll describe later.
Funhouse is a fan favourite especially with that iconic cover! What was the inspiration behind Funhouse?
When I was assigned my first thriller, I searched my brain for the things that scare me most. There weren’t many, and I wouldn’t say this actually scared me, but I dislike intensely theme parks, carnivals, circuses, anything like that. I know, I know, everyone else likes them. So I’m weird. I believe it has something to do with when I was a kid and had a bad experience near (not actually at) a circus. Anyway, because I felt so strongly about amusement parks, I decided to make that a setting, and that got me started.
Point Horror books were aimed at the teen market and themes such as racism, sexuality and divorce can be found in their pages. Were there any themes you felt were important to cover with your writing?
No, but I would have loved to cover the themes you mentioned.
With a few notable exceptions, Point Horror tended to stick to a few basic rules: female protagonist, brooding romantic interest, a general whodunnit structure etc. Was it a challenge to invent compelling plots within those boundaries?
I didn’t feel the boundaries. Ann never put any limits on me.
We noticed a difference between some early Point Horror books 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?
I think all of publishing began loosening the reins about the time I retired. I could sort of feel it in the air or something. Sounds weird, but I wasn’t surprised when “The Hunger Games” was published, and eight years earlier, I would have been.
Which of your Point Horror characters is most like you? Do you ever base characters on anyone you know?
None of them are based on me, except for one common trait. I didn’t want my girls being rescued by a boy. Life is tough, and I wanted them to fix whatever it was by themselves. They need to be able to do that. That doesn’t mean no boys in their lives, of course. But she needs to rescue herself. (And maybe rescue him, too.)
Which of your Point Horror characters would you most like to hang out with or have dinner with?
Probably Tess in “The Silent Scream”. I liked her. And of course I’d like to take Lottie from “The Train” and give her a good talking-to. But I can’t, because she’s dead. May…be.
Did you get any input into any of the iconic Point Horror covers or Nightmare Hall covers?
No. I trusted implicitly the artists at Scholastic.
Did you like the covers? Any favourites that stood out or that you thought captured your stories well?
I liked all of them. And I loved the British ones. Very, very classy.
How did the Nightmare Hall series come about, and did you have sole ownership of it?
Ann had reservations about whether or not that series would be good for my career, and she said so. I had reservations about the impossible deadlines. But my kids were grown and out of the house, I lived alone and my time was my own, so I made the decision to do it. It was fun, but I wouldn’t want to work those hours again. Whew!
How was it working with ghost-writers? Did you get to choose any of the ghost writers for the Nightmare Hall series to keep consistency?
No, but I knew them. Barbara Steiner was one and oddly enough, she happened to know my best friend, who lived not here, but in Colorado, which just proved to me that it really is a very small world. Although I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of ghost writers, Ann said it was common practice, and after a short period of time, I knew I would need some help. But later in the series, I ended that part of it. I just never felt good about it.
A lot of people notice the difference in writing style between your books and the ghost-written ones. How did the ghost-writing process work? Were you consulted on their stories / the direction these would go in?
Yes, I was always consulted, and there really weren’t that many out of the 29 books in the series. I got to see the galleys and make corrections before I returned them. Some didn’t sell as well, which just told me the readers were paying attention. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the help when it came.
Was Nightmare Hall always envisioned as a series or to run as long as it did (29 books!)?
Yes, always as a series. We didn’t know in the beginning how long it would last.
How did you keep track of the Nightmare Hall / Salem universe as these books were written?
Were there any Nightmare Hall books that didn’t get written?
Did you ever listen of have any involvement in the audio tapes of the books? The Accident is a fan favourite for the audio book!
The audiobooks were fun. I’ll share a little story: my daughter and her husband had gone on a cruise, so I was taking care of my three grandchildren., two boys and a female toddler. I had two Walkman’s in my house. I put “The Accident” in one and “Funhouse” in the other and gave them to the boys, who were bright, lively eight and twelve years old. One took one sofa and the other took another sofa and they stayed there, listening, wide-eyed, most of the afternoon. Cool. What a great idea! After that, they read more of my books. Great.
Can you remember when you stopped writing for Point Horror? How did this happen? Was it a natural end?
Several things happened all at the same time. One, my editor was sent into retirement. Two, my daughter’s husband left for someone else, and she wasn’t taking it well. Three, shortly after that, Arthur Levine discovered J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, and the expression, “That’s all she wrote” took on new meaning for me. I was ready to rest, frankly, and tend to family issues. So that’s what I did.
Did you ever read any Point Horrors by any of the other authors? With so many books being released under the brand how did you know as a writer that your stories were not heading down the same route as other Point Horror contributions?
Ann took care of that. She knew everything that was going on with Point Horror and would have steered me away from any similar storylines.
Did you ever meet any of the other Point Horror authors?
I met R.L. Stine for lunch in New York City
With Fear Street movies, a Point Horror anthology TV series, Christopher Pikes Midnight Club, The Forbidden Game trilogy and R L Stines “Babysitter” books all been given the tv series treatment… have you ever been asked or thought about Nightmare Hall being adapted for the screen? So many of us think it is the perfect setting and series rife for an adaptation.
Well, I would love a tv series or a movie, but I have never had an agent and you need one for that sort of thing. I did have two possibilities for a movie of “The Train”, but both were start-up companies and either ran out of money early on or lost their backers. So that didn’t happen.
Prom Date is an absolute fan favourite and perfect for a movie adaptation with slasher horror vibes. Are there any of your other books that you would you love to have been made into a TV show or Movie?
Well, I wouldn’t pick “The Train”. I think the logistics of that would make it difficult to do within a small budget. I’d probably pick “Funhouse”.
Which of your Point Horror titles do you think has aged the best?
Again, “Funhouse”. Although “The Accident” has done very well, too.
Are there any Point Horrors that you would like to re write for modern day?
I don’t think so. If I were going to do something like that, I’d rather do an original.
Do you ever think about what some of your characters may get up to in a modern-day YA thriller? Who would thrive and in current day?
All of my girls would thrive because they’re strong and smart, right?
Your Med Center books cover a variety of “disaster” scenarios. Book 1, Virus, sounds scarily similar to what we have all been going through with Covid. How was it writing fiction like this in relation to what we know now?
Those books were fun to do. I was fond of the characters, and I do love disasters. I must say, I have thought of “Virus” a lot these past fifteen months, but I think I downplayed the misery. I just didn’t realized how bad it could really get. So much heartbreak.
Tell us about some of your other books! You also wrote for Wildfire for example. These seemed different from the thrillers – how did this come about?
One of my favourite series was called “The Stepsisters”. This was very early in my career. A group of writers wrote under the name “Tina Oaks”. My favourite among the ones I wrote is a book called “Guilty Sister”. I’m very fond of that book. Another favourite is a book I wrote after “Nightmare Hall”. Ann said because they felt the readers would be disappointed that it wasn’t a thriller, they wanted to publish it under an assumed name. Lindsay Caldwell. I said sure, why not? It’s a double-length novel about a girl who has a terrible accident and her struggles with recovery. Somewhere along the way, Scholastic must have decided they’d made a mistake and issued more copies of the book under my name. I began receiving letters from readers asking, “What’s up wit this? We’re very confused.” Well, of course they were. Why wouldn’t they be? That happens to be one of my favourite works. It’s titled “Don’t Let Me Die”, a title I did not pick, by the way. It’s okay, but I wouldn’t have chosen it.
Do you know how many books of any genre or any publication that you have written in total?
I believe it’s close to sixty. One series (which I was also fond of) titled “Chrystal Falls”, was only published in Sweden. I’m not sure why. I had already moved on to other things, so didn’t find it upsetting, but I liked those books. I think I only wrote two, but I’m not sure. One group of kids was working-class, which is the world I grew up in, so that meant something to me.
What inspired you to be a writer?
Reading. My dad worked in a factory and my mother was a housewife raising nine children, but both of them were avid readers. And so, all of their children became avid readers, too.
What is your writing process? How long does it take you to write a book? Or how long did it used to take to write Point Horrors back in the day?
Up in the morning around 7 or 8, coffee first, then upstairs to my office, and I would be up there most of the day and with “Nightmare Hall” again in the evening until maybe 10 or 11. I had only thirty days to not only write the book but somewhere in that time period I would have to come up with a complete outline for the next book. It was brutal. But still fun. The Point Horrors I had more time for, maybe three or four months. That helped. I do work fast, I guess, but that’s because usually the entire book is already in my head, thanks to the outline.
What is your favourite genre to read as a reader?
I like all kinds of books, maybe excepting tacky thrillers that are 90% dialogue. That’s lazy writing. If you’re going to rely solely on dialogue, why not write a play? Novels should be more than that.
What are you up to now a days? Do you have any more YA thrillers in the works?
I am mostly writing letters to politicians these days. I’m sure they don’t read them, but it makes me feel better. The last five years have been a nightmare and I’m hoping to see us do better now. That’s where my passion lies right now.
We saw that you had partnered with Open Road media to bring many of your books out as e-books. However, Nightmare Hall Guilty, Revenge, The Dummy and The Voice in the Mirror don’t seem to be available – are there any plans for these books to come out too?
There are still books of mine that are available to openroad. Maybe we’ll talk about that when contract renewal time comes up. I’ve been very happy with my relationship with them. They’re good people.
How has your YA audience changed over the years? Do you read modern YA? If so, what’s the biggest change you have noticed? Do you think teen reader are savvier now than in the early 90’s Point Horror heyday?
Much savvier. As I mentioned earlier, I would have loved to tackle divorce, maybe college acquaintance rape, though that’s a touchy subject but an important one, I think, and definitely racism. But we weren’t doing those back then. I would also kill to have the opportunity to tell young readers, male and female, that just because a guy takes you out for a burger, that doesn’t mean he gets to have sex. Not if you’re fourteen or fifteen or even sixteen.
But I don’t really expect to have that opportunity now.
How do you feel about your books finding the original kids again who read them in the 80s and 90s, but are now nostalgic collectors and reaching a whole new audience all these years later?
I think it’s amazing. I thought it was amazing that openroad came looking for me after all this time. I’m also amazed when I glance at Amazon and Ebay and see not only that my books are for sale there and other places, but that the reviews are so positive. Wow. That’s nice
We totally think Point Horror could make a come back in this day and age! Would you ever return to writing Point Horror? If so what title would you choose?
I think at this stage of my life, if I were to write a horror novel, I might base it around racism. But I question whether anyone would publish such a book.
We love you Diane!! Thank you so much for having this chat with us. You have made a lot of your now grown up fans very happy! Thank you so much for sharing your talent and making our childhoods WONDERFUL with your creativity. We always knew as a teen that we were in for a treat when a new Diane Hoh book was released and we all wanted to visit Salem University!
Thanks Chelley! This has been fun. Thanks for the opportunity and give my best to your fellow Point Horror People.
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Want to explore previous #PointHorrorBookClub posts? I’ve got you! Head to the main page here
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