Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your latest horror book, The Captivating Flames of Madness! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this collection of short stories?
Jeff Parsons: My book is a collection of short horror stories set in the past, present, and future. So, in a way, some of the stories also qualify for inclusion into the historical and sci-fi genres.
Sounds like a cliché, but I’m inspired by real life. Stories that are realistic are interesting to me. Interesting is when a character’s emotions, what they’re going through, and their decisions are relatable to me. I like to see what happens when I introduce something unusual in the character’s lives. In a vicarious way, stepping outside myself, I like to see how someone else handles their fear so that maybe I can use that strength myself or, in the very least, learn something from it. Maybe that’s what inspired me to read and write horror. As a child, I was afraid of many things. I eventually decided to start facing my fears. I guess I was afraid of feeling helpless. I’m certainly not fearless right now, especially considering all the things I’ve thought about as a horror writer, but I usually don’t let my fears control me as much as they used to.
If you read my stories, you’ll know I’ve thought about a lot of scary things. The uh-oh deep thoughts that give you cause to ponder long after. If you’re looking for cheap scares, that’s usually not my writing style, although I’m certainly not above that. "Thought-provoking" is what one person said about my stories. If a horror story gets you to think, then it has done its job in my humble opinion. Yes, that’s what horror is to me, it takes you on a journey out of your nice comfort zone and gets you thinking.
And, I guess I also just like a good scare.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in bringing the stories to life, and what have been some of your creative influences?
JP: I collect ideas that interest me. I write them down and then let them simmer in my subconscious. Eventually, they may find a plot to fit into. If not, that’s okay. I don’t worry about it. If I find a use for an idea, I create a very drafty outline and add characters to it. That may seem like it’s plot oriented, but really the characters take control of the sketchy plot and make the story happen. Sometimes, they write it for me and I get all the credit. I think characters are the main part of any story. Nothing makes sense unless it’s from a human perspective with all of the baggage, drama, senses, and emotions thrown in.
I write first drafts on paper. By doing that, I can work on editing anywhere. It’s so easy to flip back and forth between various pages. It also makes sense for me, because my scribbles can get quite lengthy and often interactive between distant pages. I write notes in the margin, such as look this up, fix this, dammit, write this better, oh my God what have I done, and so on. I then move on from the edits and let it be for a while. Again, the subconscious is my ally. Later, I come back to it when the particular muse suits me: rewriting, researching, polishing, whining about it…
I don’t force things; that’s no fun, and if it’s not fun, I won’t do it. Not even for a Scooby Snack…
I think having a good peer review group is a solid gold slice of heaven. They’ll help you think outside the box you’ve often put yourself in.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that The Captivating Flames of Madness will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that the stories were important for you to bring to life?
JP: I strive to make my stories affect the reader on a personal level. Real life, relatable, making you think about your life, all this is especially important in horror, or else it just becomes, well… unrealistic (although fantasy is a good genre as well, mind you).
My experience in Toastmasters has helped me to understand that a speech, like a story, should flow seamlessly like water to help connect with the audience and that even the best speakers don’t talk like perfect robots. While it’s hard to trim away distracting words that you’ve grown attached to, it’s necessary in order to capture and hold your readers attention and not get mired in a tar pit of droll background description.
I write about real people. Essentially, no one is perfect, or perfectly good or evil, and we’re all just trying to figure out what’s going on in life. It helps you understand people when you try to walk in their shoes. See their perspective. Live their life. You may not agree with the character’s actions, but at least you’ll understand them (as best as you can). I enter these characters into a story that has some element of the unusual or supernatural – I want people to think about the greater world out there we don’t know anything about. I want people to be curious.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JP: I’ll be writing more short stories for small press magazines. My pattern so far has been to collect them into books.
I’m working on an alt-history scifi/ horror novel about mankind’s first and last contact with aliens. While doing this, I’ve learned a great deal about the process of novel writing – it involves a lot of coffee and chocolate.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Captivating Flames of Madness and your other work?
JP: Please visit my author page on Facebook. You can contact me there. I also have author pages on Amazon and Goodreads.