Bram Stoker Awards Spotlight Interview: Lisa Morton

As part of my Scare-a-Thon series of interviews, I’d like to welcome 4-time Bram Stoker Award winner Lisa Morton! She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions (and talk about her new book!), and I’m thrilled to have her on the blog!

Lisa, you’re a four-time Bram Stoker Award winning author (The Castle of Los Angeles, and more), editor, and playwright! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I have always wanted to be a writer – I had my first piece (a poem about my turtle) published when I was in kindergarten. In college I studied to be a screenwriter, and I wasted – er, I mean, spent – about fifteen years on screenwriting before really taking the prose plunge.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
As a kid I grew up reading classics and genre works, and my early favorite authors include Theodore Sturgeon, Ursula K. LeGuin and Harlan Ellison. Later on, I discovered Philip K. Dick and Dennis Etchison.

If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Probably Dick’s Ubik, which amazes me every time I re-read it.

What do you like to see in a good book?
Aside from the obvious answers – good plotting and characters, real emotional investment – presentation is also important to me. I will put a book aside quickly if it’s full of grammatical errors, typos, punctuation problems, or even bad layout.

In your editing work, what do you look for when putting together an anthology?
Okay, this will sounds either obvious or smarmy, but here it is: FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. If it’s a themed anthology, don’t submit something that is not apropos to the theme. It always amazes me that we have to say things like this, but we do. Beyond that, here are a couple of things I’ve seen over and over in slush piles: 1) Don’t start your story by giving me pages of background on the lead character; 2) be aware of clichés and avoid them; and 3) don’t pad your story out with information I don’t need to know. It’s enough to know, for example, that your character ate dinner; I don’t need to know where they bought the food, that they thought it needed more salt, how long it took to eat, their rituals for washing dishes, etc.

Halloween is right around the corner, and you’re known as a Halloween authority! What do you love most about it?
That’s hard to say, because I love it all! I love the crazy merchandising, I love the colors and tastes, I love the way people decorate their yards, I love all the talk about horror and history.

What do you find truly scary?
I’m fortunately not a person who suffers from phobias, but there are plenty of other things I find disturbing on a daily basis, and I wish more horror writers would address sociopolitical issues in their work. I’ve written about sexism and gender politics, racism, homophobia, abortion, poverty, institutionalization, extreme politics, pollution, child abuse, and (a theme that really obsesses me) the responsibilities of the artist.

You have a brand new book coming out soon, Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Will you tell us a bit about it?
It’s my first narrative history of Halloween (meaning it’s not an encyclopedic reference or a collection of source documents), and it’s the first Halloween book that looks at the festival on both a historical and a contemporary global scale. My publisher, Reaktion Books, really urged me to examine the recent global explosion of the holiday’s popularity, and I’m glad they did, because much of what I discovered surprised even me! Over just the last few years, Halloween has taken off in areas like Great Britain, South Africa, even China and Ukraine. I also got to put forward a few of my theories regarding the holiday’s origins in this book, which is something you can’t really do in a straightforward encyclopedic reference. I talk at length, for example, about an eighteenth-century British surveyor named Charles Vallancey who I believe set up many of the mistaken notions of Halloween that have filtered down to modern times.

How do you celebrate Halloween?
My partner Ricky and I have a clear agenda: We love to pass out candy to trick or treaters for a while, then take off and visit our favorite haunted attractions and yard displays. Being the home of the entertainment industry, we get some of the most astonishing home Halloween shows in the L.A. area – they involve everything from projected animations to audioanimatronic figures and “Haunted Mansion”-style ghost effects. It’s like supernatural performance art in the front yard!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events?
I’m pleased to be part of an exciting project from JournalStone called “Double Down”, that pairs established writers with up-and-coming talents to produce matched novellas; my novella will share page space with oneDavid Konow signing Reel Terror: The Scary, Bloody, Gory, Hundred-Year History of Classic Horror Films (TPB 18.99) on Sat, Oct 27th 11 to 1 pm at Son of Monsterpalooza by Eric Guignard, a wonderfully talented and hard-working SoCal writer who I think will really impress everyone. Any chance to help new writers is always gratifying to me. And I will make an unequivocal promise here: I will have another novel out in 2013.
Keep up with Lisa: Website
Purchase Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween: Amazon | B&N

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