The following is an interview with writer Caleb Stephens regarding the upcoming release of the short horror fiction collection, If Only a Heart and Other Tales of Terror, through Salt Heart Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Stephens about the creative process of bringing the short stories to life, how the stories may connect with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of If Only a Heart and Other Tales of Terror! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the collection’s overall premise, and what (or who) was its inspiration?
Caleb Stephens: If Only a Heart and Other Tales of Terror is a collection of dark horror fiction with some lighter pieces sprinkled throughout. The overarching theme is one of love and loss, and the extraordinary lengths we will travel to protect the ones who are the most important to us.
As far as inspiration, I’ve always pictured myself as a novelist. I love the way characters come to life in a longer piece and how they become as real to you as a close friend or a member of your family. The problem with novels, however, is that it can take some time to come up with an idea that will keep you chugging along for eighty thousand words. After my first book (which will forever live on my laptop), I began playing around with short stories, mostly to keep my writing chops in shape while I brainstormed my next book idea. After writing a couple, I really came to enjoy the short form. More than anything else, it has helped me polish the craft of writing, be ruthless with word count and plot, all while connecting with other writers. I should have started with short stories far sooner than I did.
BD: What can you tell us about the creative process of bringing these stories to life?
CS: What’s really fun with short stories is that you can experiment. If the story doesn’t work, that’s okay because you didn’t spend a year writing it. In the same vein, I don’t really outline or map out my short stories. They come to me organically. I won’t write something until an idea picks at me for a couple of weeks. When that happens, I know I’m on to something—that there’s some meat on the bone to explore. The first story in the collection, “The Wallpaper Man,” came that way. I’ve always found wallpaper to be fairly creepy, and I thought, hmm, what if something lived there, behind the wallpaper, inside the wall? And what if that thing offered to help you?
A lot of If Only a Heart is inspired by fears of losing the people I love. I grew up attending an abnormal number of funerals. I think I’d gone to around eleven or so by the time I was ten. All those deaths had an impact on me. Death is the ultimate unknown, and we are only here for so long. I think it’s a topic worthy of exploration.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that your short story collection will connect with and impact readers?
CS: I would like to think that horror in general can be cathartic for folks. It can help them process complex emotions they, at times, wouldn’t otherwise address. Fear, anger, shame, and depression. Love, loss, and triumph. Watching a character go through those things on the page, actually living the story with them, can aid us in making some sense of our own life stories.
To me, the sign of good writing is if it resonates with the reader in some way. That it makes them feel something because modern-day living can be very numbing. We are constantly connected to screens, constantly doing, doing, doing. We are pulled in so many directions at once. To sit down with a book and read for a little bit is a way to connect with yourself and to think critically about a narrative. If my stories cause people to feel, or to think a little, I’ll consider the work a success.
BD: What makes Salt Heart Press the perfect home for this collection?
CS: I was first introduced to Salt Heart Press by a friend, P.L. McMillan, who was recently published through them. I really respect P.L. and love reading her stuff, so I decided to check them out. Women-run, Salt Heart is focused on spotlighting quality emerging dark fiction writers and are driven to support authors they feel bring a fresh voice to the genre. It seemed like the perfect fit!
BD: Do you foresee expanding the collection into subsequent books?
CS: Maybe at some point, I’ll put together another collection, but I have several novels I need to focus on first.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CS: Absolutely. “The Wallpaper Man” was recently adapted to film by Falconer Media. It will be heading to film festivals and studios this fall. I’m hoping, with any luck, we’ll have a feature on our hands soon—something you might be able to watch at the theaters or through one of the big box streamers. Keep an eye on my website for updates. Oh, and of course the novels. I’m particularly excited about the newest one I’m writing. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I think it will be fun for readers when I get it out there.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about If Only a Heart and Other Tales of Terror and your other work?
CS: My website is the best place: www.calebstephensauthor.com. You can join my newsletter (I’ll send you a free story!) and peruse some of my other projects while you’re there. Also, I’m pretty active on Twitter (@cstephensauthor).