Novelspot welcomes Macey Baggett Wuesthoff, a horror writer and long time admirer of Stephen King. For starters, do you want to tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing, and horror, in particular?
Macey: I enjoy a variety of things--movies (particularly horror, of course), swimming, reading, Internet socializing, spending time with friends, family, and my Chihuahuas--but writing is of course my favorite, my passion. I'd rather write than do pretty much anything else.
I grew up in Alabama in a small town called Florence. There wasn’t much to do in Florence in general, especially for me as a kid. I was an only child in a single parent home, living at the end of a dirt road with no neighboring kids and no cable television. I had to do something to entertain myself, so I began to draw and write stories when I was five years old.
At first, I wrote children’s picture stories with my pets as characters. When I got a little older, I saw my first horror movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Hell Night. They scared the crap out of me—and I loved it! From then on, I became fascinated with horror.
I started reading horror, too, first young adult and then adult. Some of it scared me, and some of it just fell flat. Since I already had a passion for writing, the flat ones inspired me to give it a try myself at the horror genre, for I felt that I could do better. My first short horror stories were born when I was 12 years old.
Macey: In Sacrifice, a small southern town called Grimshaw literally sells its soul to the devil. They form a pact with Satan, slaughtering their own children in ritualistic sacrifice in exchange for wealth and fortune. Grimshaw teenagers Angel Fallow and her best friend Peter St. Thomas stumble upon their town’s gruesome secret when searching for Angel’s missing father, presumed dead after disappearing from the scene of an accident. They learn that a horrifying connection exists between the cult and Angel’s father. Even worse, they discover that the cult sacrifices children who fit their physical profile, within the Same woods where they meet. Unless they flee Grimshaw or expose the cult to an uncorrupted authority, they could become its next victims.
Sacrifice originated from childhood fears of my town’s local urban legends. For years, it was rumored that Satanists actually secretly operated in the wooded areas of Florence, and some rumors even claimed that they sacrificed children. Nothing was ever actually found or proven. Yet it was enough to scare the locals for a long time, especially the children. I had a forest right at the edge of my front yard, and the legends claimed that Satanists liked to sacrifice children who had the same physical features that I had. I began to imagine, what if they were operating in the woods next to me, and wanted to sacrifice me? I was quite young at the time, so I even imagined that I saw people out there, dressed in black hoods and robes, watching me. It scared the hell out of me! So I thought it might scare the hell out of a reader, too. Thus came the same premise for Sacrifice, which started out as one of my short story drafts when I was twelve, and later evolved into a novel.
As the town I set the novel in was fictional, I encountered few problems, so Sacrifice practically wrote itself. The novel was voted fifth best new horror novel in the 2004 P&E Readers’ Poll and has garnered many positive reviews. In addition to my publisher and distributors selling the novel, I also sell copies myself via my website maceyshouseofhorror.com. My profit is higher when readers buy the books from me, so as an incentive, I autograph them and include a complimentary bookmark and a download of one short story of the reader’s choice. Sample chapters can be read for free by visiting my website.
Macey: The Box opens in colonial Salem, where a hag bewitches a human skull and encloses it in a box painted with demonic creatures. In 1993, both objects fall into the hands of Ben Hurt, a seventeen-year-old horror collector and drug addict living in Chicago’s housing projects. Almost immediately, pictures and other images of living creatures start to come alive before Ben’s eyes and attack him. Yet no one else seems to be able to see the attackers but Ben himself.
At first, everyone believes that Ben is merely experiencing hallucinations induced by occasional slips back into his old drug habits. But even after Ben gets scared straight for good, he continues to be terrorized by attackers visible only to him. And when people who come into contact with both Ben and the box and skull start to turn up dead, Ben becomes the prime suspect. Ben must figure out how the box and skull are connected to the bloodshed around him, and find a way to destroy them both before their power makes a casualty of anyone else—including himself…
In addition to my primary goal of The Box being a good and unique story, my second goal was to come up with something totally different from Sacrifice to avoid falling into a rut. So I tried to go opposite in every aspect: a male protagonist as opposed to a female, a wrong-side-of-tracks teen as opposed to an innocent, a large city as opposed to a small farming town, and supernatural horror as opposed to realistic.
The greatest challenge in writing The Box was in research. By the time I started writing the story, most of the housing projects were being torn down, so I had to research a setting that was practically in the past already. Furthermore, it was also challenging setting the story in a city that I’ve only briefly visited. Another big challenge was that my main character Ben is a drug addict, but I’ve never done drugs myself, so in order to write about Ben’s experiences with drugs, I had to find drug users to interview as sources.
Novelspot: And about your short works, In Death's Face, A Question of Faith and When Your Period Has You?(plot, writing problems, events, issues, the call, etc...)
Macey: In Death’s Face gives readers a glimpse into the possible afterlife fate of those who commit suicide. I wrote the story initially for the purpose of entering it in a writers’ conference contest. The prize was a small monetary sum plus publication in the conference’s anthology, the latter being the main part I was interested in. I succeeded in placing second, which indeed earned me the publication prize I sought. I thought it would be interesting and unique to write a story from the point-of-view of a person who committed suicide. It seemed to be a premise that had been rarely explored in fiction, except for perhaps in the movie What Dreams May Come. My overall aim with the story is to send a message about the potential repercussions of suicide: It might not be what you expect, and could even be worse than whatever you are experiencing in your life, yet you can’t take it back.
When Your Period Has You is an autobiographical medical article detailing my experience with severe menstrual pain, with special focus on the causing factor, endometriosis. The article was an entry for the same conference and the same contest, but in a different category and during the subsequent year. It also placed second and was thus published in the anthology.I wanted to write about my personal struggles with endometriosis partially for the cathartic experience of discussing it. Mostly though, I wrote it because I had a number of other endometriosis and menstrual pain sufferers consult me for advice. I felt such an article could give them a more personal take on endometriosis than they could get from doctors who, though thoroughly educated about the disease from a medical aspect, usually haven’t suffered from it themselves.
A Question of Faith details a battle of wills between an atheist psychic and a preacher trying to keep his congregation devout. The story was an entry for yet another contest, originally under a different title. It was for a 24-hour short story contest, and that time, I didn’t even get as much as an honorable mention. I think that may be because the story is uncomfortable for a lot of people who have little or no religious beliefs. Since that contest, however, the story has been published a couple of times, so I definitely feel it was worth my time. Most readers now seem to appreciate the story and the message behind it.
Novelspot: How would you say that the mind of a horror writer (and maybe a horror reader) differs from the run of the mill reader?
Macey: Due to the very nature of the genre, horror writers usually have to keep their thoughts and imagination on much darker subjects than writers of romance, humor, etc. There is also a perhaps greater importance for the horror writer to focus on the struggle between good and evil, and to know how to achieve the perfect balance between plot and reader eye candy (in horror’s case, blood and gore). Overall, though, I don’t feel there’s much difference. No matter what the genre, most of us—writers and readers alike—just want to enjoy writing and/or reading a good, exciting story.
Novelspot: Do you approach novels and short stories differently, and if so, how? Do you contour your idea to the form or the form to the concept, write to the market, or just blurt out whatever occurs and go with it? Where did you find your writing education? Is there any connection between your collegiate journalism career and your horror career?
Macey: Usually, my initial approach is the same, because I don’t know if a story will be short, a novella, or a full-length novel until I start writing it. It’s like the “story tells me” how long it will be. At first I just blurt out whatever story as it comes—something “guides my fingers” to which keys to hit. As I progress into the work, and the length presents itself, the shorter works stick to being more of a blurt-out process, while the novels become more paced. With the novels, if I get stuck on a particular plot point or a research element, I will write just what I already know but write it in scenes, skipping around to the scenes that are coming easiest to me, and later going back and adding in the scenes and transitions that need to be researched or mentally unblocked.
I received very few opportunities to write creatively in school. While I did well with school writing assignments, I didn’t enjoy most of them because they were on topics I had no passion for, assigned by teachers or textbooks rather than chosen by me. Most of my creative writing practice just came from writing at home to entertain myself. However, I primarily gained the confidence and the passion to pursue writing on a professional, publishing level from my success in writing in academic settings, particularly during the public relations internship, which enabled me to experience getting my press releases published in newspapers.
Novelspot: I see on your website that you're developing Sacrifice as a screenplay. How is that going?
Macey: A few years ago, I created a rough draft of a Sacrifice screenplay. I was trying to get it together to enter in the “Project Greenlight” competition but couldn’t get it finished by the deadline. Unfortunately, due to other projects occupying my time, I’ve had to put the screenplay on the back burner for now. Even so, I remain interested in and open to working with anyone who can help me get the book converted to the silver screen, particularly since all of my readers without exception have told me that Sacrifice would make an excellent movie.
Novelspot: Has plagiarism been an issue? (If there's a story here you want to talk about)
Macey: Not thus far. As my website disclaimers make known, I am religious about copywriting pretty much all of my works. I know a few other writers personally who have had their works stolen from them without compensation, and I’m just not willing to take the risk. The only time I don’t copyright something is if it goes almost directly from my computer to publication with a byline, giving me tangible proof that the work is mine. As thirty bucks a pop through the U.S. Copyright Office can get expensive, I generally stick to copywriting the novels and novellas the official way, and doing the short works through the “poor man’s copyright” (mailing them to myself).
Novelspot: You also talk about working on the sequel to Sacrifice.
Macey: The sequel for Sacrifice is about halfway complete at present. Difficulties with research on police procedures is largely to blame for the current delay. The sequel is told from the third person point-of-view of Peter St. Thomas, the best friend of Sacrifice’s Angel Fallow. The sequel deals largely with his efforts to reassemble his life from the traumas of the first novel and to get vengeance on those who hurt him and Angel. I don’t want to say too much more about the sequel yet because it is not complete, and because I don’t want to ruin the end of Sacrifice for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.