As Adam Stemple’s horror novelette “Goblin Hole” opens, Corporal Billy Wilbur has just been voluntold for another night mission into the World War I wastes of No Man’s Land. It’s on this mission, led by the war-hungry Sergeant Cooper, that the corporal learns there’s something worse on the battlefield than man’s inhumanity to man…
Q (Crone Girls Press): What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”
A (Adam Stemple): Ooh, I love “the story behind the story.” Ok, I had an idea for a WWI story. So, I started it, wrote maybe a page or two. I like it, but needed to do some research. Diving into WWI trench warfare I immediately learned two things:
1. WWI trench warfare SUCKED.
2. My idea would not work.
Back to the drawing board. I started over completely. New idea. New research. Realized two things:
1. WWI trench warfare still sucked.
2. This new idea wouldn’t work, either.
Ok. New approach. Instead of coming up with a new idea only to find out it was too implausible, I did my research first. That’s when I ran into the legends of deserters living in No Man’s Land. Well, there’s something there, I thought. And even better, in some of the legends, they weren’t deserters, they were flesh-eating ghouls.
Now we were talking!
Researching flesh-eating ghouls in WWI trenches led me down some strange rabbit holes (there was a night’s worth of reading on the Kentucky Goblins and Mothman that I don’t want to talk about) but when I found out that there were medieval tunnels in Germany and France that no one knew the purposes of, I was almost there. Then I discovered that one of them was called “Schrazelloch,” the Goblin Hole, I was in. The story practically wrote itself at that point.
My favorite part of the story—as I am a dark fantasy/horror writer, it shouldn’t surprise you that this is a bit macabre, also SPOILER ALERT—is that I kill half the characters before even introducing the fantasy/horror element. Because WWI trench warfare SUCKED.
Q: How long have you been writing? What are your preferred genres and why?
A: I write primarily fantasy, often dark fantasy sometimes bordering on horror. THE GOBLIN HOLE being case and point on that last bit. Though I’ve published pieces in other genres, I always return to fantasy as that’s what I was raised on. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Diane Duane, Dianna Wynne Jones, Anne McCaffrey were my constant companions growing up.
I began writing very early. You could almost say I had a Skinner-esque training in it. My mother is Jane Yolen, author of roughly 400 books for children and adults. Like many kids, I had a journal from about the age of seven or so. But unlike most children (I imagine), every morning my journal was returned to me edited in red ink, with a prompt for the next entry.
Q: What draws you to the genre of horror/dark fiction? What do you find there that you don’t find anywhere else?
A: I like the genre because it doesn’t always have good outcomes. Sometimes when you write characters into bad situations, they don’t get out of it. And that’s ok in the genre. It means that as a reader, you know the stakes are always real. How boring is it to read a book and know from the onset that everyone is going to be fine by the end?
Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite, and why?
A: Does anyone answer this question? It’s so hard to pick! First of all, I—as I’d guess you find with most authors—would tell you they love the characters in their current work in progress. I’m currently loving two of my main characters: Alda, a young girl thief who is plucky, smart, and a bit murdery; and The Black Duke, an old pansexual forest raider who is as tough as he is amoral.
But I continue to have a soft spot in my heart for Quinn, one of three protagonists in a currently unsold thriller/horror novel called Bad Company. He’s a sociopathic hitman who’s likeable for all that and saves the world almost accidentally on his quest for revenge.
Q: What do you find the most challenging about the writing process, and how do you meet that challenge?
A: TL;DR The writing. By writing.
I’m diagnosed with severe to moderate ADHD. So actually sitting down and doing the writing can be difficult. But if I can wait out the initial tedium of staring at a blank page, the obsessive focus part of ADHD kicks in and the words come easily. Music helps. It seems to occupy that part of my brain that is always humming and buzzing so that I can concentrate on writing. Has to be without lyrics, or sung in a language I don’t speak, however.
Q: What was the best writing advice you ever received? Why, and how did it affect your writing?
A: My first agent, Marilyn Marlow, when I was talking through the process of writing my first novel with her said, “You’re learning how you write.” I felt there was a very important distinction between her statement and someone telling you they could teach how TO write. I was able to parse the many how-to books I was reading much easier after that, adopting the things that worked for me and discarding those that didn’t. I was able to recognize that the people who told you the “correct” way to write were invariably just trying to sell you something, and the ones who told you the methods that worked for them and encouraged you to find your own had the most value.
Adam Stemple is an award-winning author, poet, and musician. Like most authors, his life experience is broad and odd. He spent twenty years on the road playing music. He ran a poker training site. He worked in a warehouse. He picked corn. He traded options and demoed houses. He drove pizzas. He drank too much. He’s been sober for over fifteen years. He published his first book at sixteen, “The Lullaby Songbook,” which he arranged the music for. His mother is a famous children’s book author. His children are artistic. His wife is a better person than him in nearly all regards.
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