Last week, Girl Meets Monster celebrated it’s 50th Fiction Fragments post and had the pleasure of chatting with horror writer Hailey Piper. We talked about female monsters and the need for more queer voices in horror — writers, editors, characters, etc. If you missed it, go check it out.
This week, I am very pleased to welcome my friend and fellow horror writer, P. D. Cacek. I met her at my first NECON last summer, but got to know her better on a road trip to Haverhill, MA for the Merrimack Vally Halloween Book Festival this past October. Sadly, both events have been canceled this year, which is a shame, because I was looking forward to having more adventures with her. Oh well, next year.
The winner of both a Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award, P.D. Cacek has written over a hundred short stories, seven plays, and six published novels. Her most recent novel, Second Lives, published by Flame Tree Press, is currently available from Amzon.com. The follow-up novel, Second Chances, will be released from Flame Tree Press, November 2020.
Cacek holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Creative Writing Option from the University of California at Long Beach and has been a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Camp.
A native Westerner, Cacek now lives Phoenixville, PA. When not writing, she can often been found either with a group of costumed storytellers called THE PATIENT CREATURES, or haunting local cemeteries looking for inspiration.
GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster! I was really bummed out about not going to NECON this year, but hopefully we’ll be able to see each other next year. I saw that you will be one of the guests of honor for NECON 40, along with the likes of Tananarive Due, Joe R. Lansdale, Victor LaValle and Bracken MacLeod. I’m excited, so I know you must be excited. What is your history with NECON and how you’ve earned the status of Legend?
PDC: It honestly feels like I’ve been going to NECON from the very beginning, but the truth is that I’ve only been going since 1998…and that’s only 22 years. But I’d heard about it long before I’d walked onto the hollowed grounds of Roger Williams University’s dorm row. Other writers not only kept telling me about this wonderful little “family” convention that was more like a summer camp with panels, but told me I HAD to go. I thought it would be fun, but wondered what, if anything, I’d have in common with “real” writers (we all go through this stage). It took a couple more years but I finally got up the courage and went to my first NECON. Of course I still didn’t feel like a “real” writer (my first novel wasn’t coming out until later that year), so I thought I’d just stay in the background and keep out of sight since no one probably knew who I was. Wrong. Not only did people know me, but those who didn’t went out of their way to introduce themselves and make me feel like I belong.
(Although it would have been nice if I’d known the rules (????) of the Damned Game Show BEFORE I was asked to be part of it…Craig.)
As for becoming a NECON Legend…wow…seriously, it is an honor beyond words. As for how I earned it, let’s see, I’ve only missed two NECONs since becoming a “camper,” was Mistress of Ceremonies in 2002 (when I proved Chris Golden is indeed a NECON Whore and managed to keep Dallas Mayr’s [Jack Ketchum] roast under two hours), have been roasted, contributed to a few NECON Books, co-edited Necon’s charity anthology for the Jimmy Fund Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and am currently the Volunteer Coordinator. I loved every minute of it and look forward to more minutes (and revenge) to come.
GMM: Second Chances is the sequel to Second Lives, which my mom loved, by the way. Can you talk about your process for writing a sequel? Did you already have a plan for what would happen in the second book? Did you use an outline, or are you more of a pantser? How did you keep track of your characters, events, etc. from the first novel? What difficulties did you encounter in the writing process? What advice would you give to someone who is working on a sequel or series?
PDC: Thank your mother for me.
Actually, Second Chances is not so much a sequel as it is a follow-up novel. I wrote Second Lives, the previous novel, with the intention of taking my characters’ storylines to a natural end point. Notice I didn’t say ending…the whole motivation for both novels comes from the fact that even as a child I always wondered what happened after “The End” in a story. “What comes next?” is the reason behind both books, however I decided against a sequel because I felt I would only be repeating myself.
But that didn’t mean there weren’t more stories that could be told using the same premise—the transmigration of a wandering soul into a new body (no, not zombies)—and that’s exactly what I did in Second Chances.
Although the novel opens in the same time frame as the first, the majority of Second Chances takes place a few years after the first “Travelers” arrive and deals with the aftermath. A bit darker in tone, the novel follows two families and shows what can happen when people become scared of something they don’t understand.
You asked how I kept track of my characters and I’m afraid my answer is rather old school—I took notes…on a pad of paper and Post’Em notes. Yes, I know I could do that on Notepad or whatever it’s called, but I’m a Luddite…and my desk, since each character had his or her own color sticky note, looked very festive.
The first piece of advice I’d give to anyone writing a sequel or follow up novel is to KEEP NOTES. They don’t have to be handwritten or on Post’Ems but you need to remember events and the outcome of those events. You also need to supply just enough history from your first book(s) to remind your reader of what happened while at the same time not falling into the dreaded “info dump.” After all this, it’s just a matter of taking your established characters on new adventures.
The second is to make an outline…if it works for you. I personally don’t do outlines, although I will jot down a scene or event I plan to write, but for the most part I won’t begin a novel or story until I have thought it out all the way through beginning to end. It might take a few days before I’m happy with the idea, but when I am, I sit down and write the ending—whether it’s one line, a paragraph or a full chapter. When that’s done, I block out the scene I plan to write in my head then sit down and start.
GMM: I know you’ve spent time working and acting in community theatre productions. How has acting, building sets, and other aspects of stagecraft impacted your writing? Have you written plays as well as novels and short fiction? How is that process different?
PDC: If anything, working in community theater—building sets or acting—has helped me with my pacing. On stage, and unless it’s written in the script, a pause that goes on a bit too long is deadly.
And the same thing applies to writing.
If you have a scene that goes on and on and on, describing each and every detail of a world whose glory can only be identified in language so marvelous it practically drips purple because the people that populate this world are so….zzzzzzz.
In stage speak: Pick up the pace.
In writer speak: Edit, edit, edit.
Now, I’m not saying you need to cut your descriptions to the bare bones, but you need to keep your reader interested in what’s going on in the story so pay attention to the pace.
After being in theater for a few years, I thought it might be fun to try my hand at writing a play. I mean, how hard could it be, right? Well, the truth is that I found the process similar to eating potato chips: I couldn’t stop after just one.
It was FUN! I stopped writing fiction for two years and wrote seven plays, won an honorable mention from the Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Competition with my very first play, had two plays performed (not a bad record) but never gave serious thought to becoming a professional playwright. The world of writing plays is entirely different than the world of writing fiction.
First, there’s the format.
In fiction it’s an equal blend of description and dialog.
In playwriting it’s dialog, dialog, dialog, etc. (side bar description…maybe). The playwright can offer suggestions as to the setting and prop pieces, but it’s the director that has the final say.
The playwright has little if any say in the matter…sort of like a writer being shown the cover of their new novel.
Another difference is in how one becomes a “professional.”
Author: Write + publish + make money (agent optional) = professional.
Playwright: Write + theatrical agent + legitimate* theater company (* pays actors) + production + production + production + production + reviews + make money + publication = professional.
I may have exaggerated on the number of productions, but that’s basically the process and while I may still write a play or two when the mood or idea strikes me, I’ll stick with being a fiction writer for now.
Fragment from Second Chances
“Why did you kill yourself?”
Jessie leaned forward and stared into the man’s eyes. “Because I
watched my friend die and didn’t even try to kill the Traveler that took over her body. I should have done it even if my dad wouldn’t. I owed her that much.”
Grabbing the walker, Jessie pulled the body to its feet and glared down at the man who’d been there from the very beginning and could have stopped it.
“Maybe this is my punishment for not saving Carly’s body from—”
Music filled Jessie’s head.
“Jessie?” Ellison stood up. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
“What? What do you hear?”
A single piano began playing, the music soft and familiar. Jessie
recognized it and tears filled his eyes.
“Jessie, what’s wrong?”
The piano was joined by a single female voice. Ellison pushed Jessie back into the chair and moved the walker away.
“Jessie, you’re starting to scare me. What’s going on?”
“Shh. Listen. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“I don’t hear anything. What do you hear?”
Jessie took a deep breath. “Abbie singing. It’s ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables. Have you seen it?”
“Yes. I took my wife to see the movie. She wasn’t impressed.”
“The stage musical’s better.” Abbie’s voice rose pure and steady and when the song ended Jessie heard their father’s voice.
“The one who dwelled within this body is gone and has taken with her a soul that was hers and hers alone. We who are left behind ask that her soul be kept only unto this body and not return. As it was and always shall be, one body, one soul for now and all eternity. One body. One soul. Now and forever. Amen.”
“Jessie, what do you hear?”
Barney put the envelope back into his coat pocket as he watched the boy walk away, pointedly ignoring the giant dressed in nursing scrubs who hovered at his side.
It was a slow walk, small sliding steps between the wheeled guardrails of the walker. It was an old man’s walk, but that would change once the muscles in the legs regained their strength.
Barney heard Millie’s quick steps a full minute before she reached his side.
“Where’s Jessie headed? I brought a few books.” He turned to watch her pull three paperbacks out of her ever-present bag. “Not sure what Jessie likes, but I thought these might do.”
Barney took the books and smiled. They were all H.G. Wells reprints. Millie’s tastes ran to the classics.
“I think he will,” he said and handed them back and watched them disappear back into the bag.
“Well,” Barney repeated. “I think Jessie was having a hard enough time even before this happened. I’ll ask that a psychological evaluation be done.”
“You’re not going to do it?”
“No, I’d rather it be done by the hospital. He has a certain, shall we say, well-learned prejudice against me. If I tested him and felt there was sufficient evidence of schizophrenia similar to that of the donor, my diagnosis might come under suspicion.”
“You think there might be?”
Barney thought about what had just happened. There might be other answers to what he just saw besides schizophrenia, but none came immediately to mind.
“I don’t know and that’s why I want him evaluated. Schizophrenia is all about brain chemistry, Millie, and we have no idea whether the physical brain changes when a Traveler wakes or if it simply adapts and accommodates the new memories. But I saw him phase out and experience what might have been auditory hallucinations.”
“That poor, poor child.”
“I know, Millie, but let’s not jump the gun. First he has to be tested and then, even if he’s diagnosed, there are antipsychotics that can and will help. Besides, the donor’s parents have agreed to take Jessie in and they already know what to do.”
Millie didn’t look happy, but did look a bit more relieved. “Well, thank God for that. Did you tell him about Ms. Samuels?”
Barney pressed his hand against the front of his coat and shook his head. It was a copy of Georgina Samuels’ obituary, dated a few days after Jessie’s, and listed her death as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. It wouldn’t do Jessie any good to see it.
Not now, not…
Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at email@example.com. See you next week!
Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.