Shells Chats with author George Wilhite

Some people feel that writing can influence their life, while others feel life can influence their writing, which do you feel suits you better?

Definitely, life influences my writing. I was raised in a Christian home, so faith in some kind of realm beyond our known reality was imprinted on my mind and soul early on. Always an avid reader, I was attracted to fantasy and supernatural fiction and this added to my fascination with “other-worldly” people and places. When my writing was in its infancy, I naturally took to these same genres.

As I have grown older and experienced much of the horror and tragedy that reality has to offer, my writing has become a place to work through tough times in a therapeutic way. I still write about supernatural and fantastic subjects, but my own life and that of those around me ends up distilled into the mix.

I noticed you like Poe and Lovecraft, I love their work. How has those two authors influenced your writing?

These two influences are huge and that is why I almost always mention them in my bio. Poe is perhaps the master of all psychological horror. He has no progenitor. Almost every work of supernatural or psychological horror he wrote is a flawless example of how to get it done. You may choose to write your tale in contemporary language and setting, but you will never go wrong using Poe’s examples of perfectly placed suspense and apprehension.

Lovecraft is not as strong a writer overall as Poe, but his prolific and wild imagination was a huge influence when I first encountered his tales in my youth. I was especially attracted to his Cthulhu Mythos and its consistent use throughout several stories. I am creating my own cosmology, The Fractured Realms, featured in the first two tales of my collection “On the Verge of Madness.” The concepts used to create this system is influenced by both Lovecraft and the world building techniques of writers of Epic Fantasy.

What do you think of the Horror genre today?

My answer depends on whether we are discussing film or fiction.

The business of horror films is in sad shape. So many remakes and sequels! I never thought I would see the day anyone felt it was necessary to remake “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and worst of all—I would go so far as to say heretical—“Psycho.” Why not just re-master and re-release the originals? The problem with these remakes is they often lack one or both of the key elements that made the original great: a superb director and a sociological context.

If you decide, as I have, to avoid all remakes and only check out a sequel if you really feel there is more story to be told, you are left with little to choose from, and sad to say most original screenplays are not particularly original or scary either. I do like many of the Japanese horror films of late (Ringu, Ju-On) and the American remakes of those are also effective.

Horror fiction, however, is going the opposite direction. The advent of self-publishing, e-books and online magazines has created a situation where new voices are constantly being heard. While King, Koontz and a few others still dominate the shelves, there are still lots of choices if you browse through a book store willing to expand their horror section to include smaller presses.

There are still too many vampires, werewolves and zombies out there for my personal taste, but I do feel right now there is a lot of variety available if you hunt for it, and a lot of amazing new talent being exposed.

How do you find time to write?

Well, I don’t think I will ever be happy with the amount of writing time available until my “ship comes in.” I write every chance I get. I have a full-time job and try to write at least something on the computer on all my days off. I write in notebooks, sometimes at lunch or if I am out at a coffeehouse. I also “write” in my head all the time when I am walking or my mind has permission to wander. Writing really has become part of my life.

If you had to pick one story out of all you wrote, what would be your favorite?

That is very difficult, some I would choose because they tell the best horror story, others due to their effective emotional or psychological impact. Since you’re making me choose, I will go with “Murmurers” from “On the Verge of Madness.” This story is Part One of “The Chronicles of Raven.”

Raven lives in an alternate future nearly devoid of human life. He is the veteran of three wars. Bitter and losing all hope, he simply wanders the roads of what is left of America. Along the way he saves a teenage girl from exploitation and they travel together, confronting strange creatures and other survivors.

To fully stay in Raven’s head at all times, I wrote the story in first person, present tense. This was the first time I have used this and probably never will again, except for the ongoing chronicles. (Part Two will be included in my next collection “Silhouette of Darkness”) It is a challenging mode but lends naturally to my purpose—Raven’s stories are both horror stories and stages in his ongoing journey back to humanity. Readers and reviewers often cite this as their favorite in the collection and I think that is why.

When writing screenplays, do you adapt them from short stories or books or do you write them new and how does that experience compare to writing short stories or even novellas?

I have done both adaptations and original screenplays. I am still a fledging, yet to sell a script, so I always choose public domain works to avoid any copyright concerns. I have a completed adaptation of Poe’s “The Gold Bug” which adapts that tale but also includes Poe himself as a character, as though he experienced the adventure first-hand. Another screenplay “A Bargaining of Souls” is a contemporary version of the Faust story. I have two other original scripts at various levels of development.

The main difference between screenplays and fiction is that you can get the first draft of a screenplay written very quickly. With Final Draft software, I was able to write “The Gold Bug” on my days off in a month. That would be unheard of for a novel, and a stretch for a novella. Like all forms of writing, however, the real work begins when it is time to go back through the first draft and rewrite. The old adage is true: writing is rewriting.

How has drive-in movies inspired your writing?

I think you have read my bio—LOL. I was born in 1961—graduated from High School in 1979. So, I grew up in the last days of drive-ins. My family attended them when I was young and as a teenager my friends and I made it through the late 1970s and early 1980s cycle of slasher films and other B-movies. Many of them sucked of course, but there were the gems along the way. In my hometown, the second feature was often a film you would see nowhere else and sometimes they would be the more interesting than the main feature--flat out masterworks by Dario Argento or an undiscovered soon to be cult classic like Phantasm.

This was all a very exciting time for movies, so much innovation in Hollywood in general, not just in the horror genre. This energy is definitely lacking today. Also, since going to the movies then was much less expensive, you could take a chance on a double bill of possible crap and not feel bad about spending the money.

You write some poetry, what inspires you when you write your poems and how does it compare to other formats of writing?

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but generally the impulse to do so stems from intense personal experience. There is a group of poems I wrote (some of which are on Author’s Den) while in college on the theme of film theory. Aside from that one intellectual pursuit, I do write very personal poetry and very little sees the light of day. I have probably written more poetry directly to my wife than I have published in any public forum.

Can you tell us a bit about "Verge of Madness?"

In 2008, I had sold a couple of stories but had final drafts of quite a bit of short fiction and I decided it was time to assemble a collection. I looked at all the stories that were most ready to go, trying to find a common theme. All of the protagonists of these tales seemed to be involved in some kind of defining moment where circumstances forced them to choose one of two possibilities: belief in the supernatural or deeming themselves mad.

The lead-off novella, “Victor Chaldean and the Portal” and “Murmurers,” discussed earlier, are the selections involving The Fractured Realms cosmology I mentioned earlier. The rest of the tales follow the common them of madness.

What made you decide to self publish?

Basically, to get something published. Since it is now “free” to self-publish, I decided to give it a go instead of spending the time writing endless query letters. I will go that more conventional route once I complete a novel, but there are not that many presses calling out for collections.

Though I have not sold a significant number of copies, the experiment is a success. I have six very positive reviews (with others pending) and the book and my name are being disseminated on the internet in a way not possible by just having stories accepted into magazines and anthologies. The latter is important also, to build a bio of bylines, but I am very proud to have the book out there also. All my friends and relatives, coworkers, etc. bought the book and their critiques are invaluable, but there is nothing quite like the feeling you get when a total stranger, thus someone who is completely objective, validates your work with a positive response.

How do you market your work?

Since I self-published and thus have no agent or publishing company working for me, my primary means of marketing are word of mouth and the internet. I use Author’s Den as my web site. It is very reasonably priced. You can have a detailed bio there, download stories and other content, and include purchase links for any books.

I also have invested some money with Books In Sync. They offer a wide range of promotional services, including a book review and interview. This provides more exposure on the internet as well when disseminated.

I post my reviews on Author’s Den and my Facebook page, as well as announcing any sales to anthologies or magazines. This buzz has sold some copies, but the bottom line is you will not get rich from self-publishing unless you have a lot of money to invest in the marketing. My plan is to get good reviews and build some kind of reputation, without worrying about huge sales. Then, I am hoping this will help me when I query a novel later.

Any future projects in the works and can you tell us about them?

I am always working on several things at once. I find this beneficial. Writer’s block is part of life, so if I get stuck on one story or project I can usually move on to another. It is rare that I just can’t write anything. If that happens, there is usually something else causing the block.

I currently have a group of stories in final revision for my second collection, “Silhouette of Darkness.” Though not finalized, it looks like Spinetinglers Publishing will be publishing this for me, which will be a relief. I am no expert at book formatting and certainly not an artist. My wife is responsible for the photography used on the cover of “On the Verge of Madness.”

Once that collection is complete, I am also planning to self-publish a collection of my flash fiction that has appeared in many different web sites and anthologies, and then I will be completing my first novel. It has no working title, but for those who have read my book, it is an expansion of the novella, “Victor Chaldean and the Portal.”

And I have been named Editor for "Weird City"--a Static Movement anthology

I also have a couple of screenplay ideas I would like to develop, as well as adapting my own novel as a screenplay.

What would you tell you a new writer about rejection letters and any advice for them in going into publishing?

Never take it personally. Easier said than done, of course. Rejection is going to be part of life and if you find that discouraging, my advice is to write for yourself and not submit. You can’t please everybody and often the reason for the rejection is simply your story is not a fit for the project at hand. It is quite rare that the editor has the time to give you any actual feedback. I have submitted a story and had it rejected multiple times and then it will get accepted elsewhere finally without changing anything. My best advice is—you know what is right for the story. Don’t let the despair of rejection letters be the reason you revise a story you know in your heart is written well.

Where can people find more out about you?

The main site, as I mentioned earlier, would be Author’s Den.

You can also check out my author’s page on Books In Sync:

I have recently started reviewing horror books for The Horror Review. Follow the link below and you will find a section “GEORGE’S REVIEWS”

Here is the direct Amazon purchase link for “On the Verge of Madness”:

If you prefer to purchase a signed copy, you can do so at Author’s Den.

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