Frank Oreto Author Interview

Frank Oreto is a writer and editor of weird fiction living in the wilds of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I mostly write short stories and my work has appeared or is upcoming at The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Pseudopod, The Corpus Press anthology series In Darkness Delight, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

How did you get started writing speculative fiction (spec fic)?

 I was always a storyteller. But didn’t start writing things down and trying to sell them until around 12 years ago.  When my friend and fellow writer Douglas Gwilym said, “Hey man. You should write.”

What was your “hook book,” the book that first drew you to spec fic?

 I remember a series of yellow cloth books. Each a collection of myths and folk tales. The Russian volume had Baba Yaga and her chicken legged house.  The United States volume, had tales of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. After that mundane stories had little appeal. 

What specific genres and sub-genres do you enjoy writing and why?

 I like things on the dark side, even when I’m being funny.  Usually, my tales lean toward the supernatural and cosmic rather than the psychological. But in the end the stories tell me what to do.  Sometimes babies get eaten, sometimes dentists take over the world. The mind is a weird instrument.

What is your favorite part about being a writer?

Creating something new in the world with just a keyboard and my weird imagination and then sharing it with people.

What is the hardest part about being a writer?

Sitting down consistently and putting the words on the paper whether you’re inspired or not. Something I’m still not great at.

What stories or authors influence your writing?

I’m a huge fan of Charles Beaumont whose fiction ran from horrific to zany but always strange.

Talk about your current spec fic novel or story and how you came up with the concept.

 I try to write a Halloween themed story each year. (Not just a creepy tale but something that has an aspect of Halloween as a central theme) Right now I’m in the midst of a story where all the children disappeared after trick or treating.  They come back each year on Halloween going door to door asking for treats only to disappear again when they’re through. How does the world deal with this? How does a parent? 

What are tired tropes you wish you would read or write less?

I don’t believe any tropes are tired you can always breathe something new into them.  I think they can limit things a bit. But working within limits can produce amazing things.

What tense and POV do you enjoy writing in?

I tend to go third person past tense. But some stories wont put up with that and I find myself in present tense.

What is your favorite internet resource for writing?

I constantly use The Submission Grinder. My all time most useful tool for organizing my submissions and finding places to send stories to.

Recommend a great spec fic book or movie that may have flown under the radar.

The Cook by Harry Kressing is a short creepy novel of food and Obsession I recommend to as many people as possible.

What’s the best way to find you online?

I can be found on Twitter @FrankOreto

World Fantasy Convention 2021 Report

Last weekend, I finally returned to the con circuit, in the most sensational way. I mean, when you haven’t been to a con in almost two years, and Covid is still rampaging through the world, why not go to Canada? Well, I packed my car, picked up a few friends along the way, and trekked north to Montréal for World Fantasy Con 2021. Having worried incessantly about crossing the border and the length of the trip, I found all my worries unwarranted and discovered I had made the right choice.

The trip wasn’t bad on the way in. I met a friend after work and drove to Syracuse, where we stayed in (what looked like) a roach motel for one night only. Good news: There were no bed bugs, and it had a nice slip-free tub for my first shower standing up since February. In the morning another friend drove in, parked at a garage, and piled into the minivan, the best vehicle ever! From there it was about 4 hours to our destination. All of our meticulous planning with Covid tests, ArriveCan, and assiduous checking to ensure we had our documentation in order, paid off; we weren’t hassled either direction at the border, although my friend is now a bagel smuggler haha. On the way home, sure, driving 9+ hours sucked, but we broke it up well and dealt with the exhaustion with a combination of caffeine and great conversation, the latter of which fueled a LOT of the fun over the long weekend.

Cons are amazing places to meet wonderful people, including fans, readers, industry professionals, and other writers. World Fantasy Con is my favorite in this aspect. Granted that this year’s WFC was much smaller than in years past, due to Covid and being north of the border, the con vibe remained intact and strong as ever. I mean, I haven’t been to so many readings before, and the reason I attended so many this time around is because so many of us were supporting each other. What a freaking fantastic way to spend a con, right?

Then there’s re-connecting with friends I mostly only see during a convention, friends I haven’t seen in a long time because of Covid. There are too many to mention (though I’m looking at YOU, Mr. Abercrombie). The absolute best part of the connections at cons, though, are those friends you are attending WITH. My roomies were a guy I’ve roomed with before, and with whom I get goofy and go crazy, and a guy I’ve known and been friends with for a while, but haven’t been to a con with previously. Well, our time together gave us all a happy buzz. The fact that I’m dropping hints in this blog to the references we made constantly with each other will inspire a few extra laughs.

I had a blast reading the first story in my collection of Roman/Gallic war supernatural squad short stories, Legio Damnati. Many props to my writer friends, new and old, for their aid in attracting a sizeable audience for said reading, considering these types of events usually only garner a few folks. I think the reading was the impetus for my robust sales. Not that I sold a ton of books, but I calculate that roughly 1 in 42 attendees (and I LOVE that number!) bought one from me, which is not at all bad.

Maybe the panels lagged from a lower number of total panelists–a side effect of a smaller con and Covid driving it to be a hybrid con–but the quality and number of topics more than made up for any shortcomings in this area. There were also some hiccups with the hybrid side of things, such as being unable to ask questions when attending an online only event, but overall, this didn’t lower the quality of the con whatsoever. Plus, an added bonus was that I was invited onto an extra panel. I shared space with incredible panelists, and had the opportunity to speak on so many interesting topics.

Overall, I have to rate this con a smashing success. Obviously, I can’t say enough about the people. The Hotel Bonaventure Montréal couldn’t have been more accommodating or beautiful. The city itself, though due to my current physical limitations I couldn’t explore much, was a stunning venue. And I finally got to experience a Timmy Hos, as I’m told the locals call it. The long weekend was a fun-filled success all around.

So, merci beaucoup to all my readers, to everyone that bought my book, and to the friends who teamed up to make World Fantasy Con 2021 so special and amazing for me. You’re all such beautiful people.

Brandon Ketchum is a speculative fiction writer from Pittsburgh, PA who enjoys putting a weird spin or strange vibe into every story, dark or light. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association, his work has won Writers of the Future Contest honorable mentions, he leads the Pittsburgh Writers Meetup Group, and coordinated the 2019 PARSEC Short Story Contest.

Find his alternative history horror fantasy short story collection, Legio Damnati, about Julius Caesar’s supernatural squad battling sorcery in the Gallic wars, here: Legio Damnati

Brandon McNulty Author Interview

Today I bring you an interview with the author of the recently released supernatural thriller Entry Wounds, Brandon McNulty!

Brandon McNulty grew up loving monsters, demons, and the thrill of a great scare. Now he writes suspense, horror, and other dark fiction. His debut novel Bad Parts won both Pitch Wars and RevPit, and his work has appeared on The No Sleep Podcase.

1) How did you get started writing speculative fiction (spec fic)?

By writing an awful fan-fiction based off The Legend of Zelda videogames. The “plot” involved a knight running through a throne room trying to kill somebody.

2) What was your “hook book,” the book that first drew you to spec fic?

The Haunted Mask by R.L. Stine

3) What specific genres and sub-genres do you enjoy writing and why?

Thrillers with fantasy/horror elements. I love stories that are fast-paced and unpredictable, and when you mix in some fantasy elements, you can keep readers guessing until you hit them with something they haven’t seen before.

4) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

The fun of discovering surprises while writing a first draft.

5) What is the hardest part about being a writer?

Everything.

6) What stories or authors influence your writing?

Anything I enjoy. My influences range from Stephen King’s novels to the early seasons of 24 to the storylines from late-90s Final Fantasy games. I only write what excites me, and I draw influence from what I grew up obsessed with.

7) Talk about your current spec fic novel or story and how you came up with the concept.

My brand new novel Entry Wounds just released in September. It’s a supernatural thriller about a high school teacher who grabs a haunted gun that he can’t put down until he kills six people.

The concept of an undroppable haunted gun was actually intended for a high fantasy novel I wanted to write. What stopped me story was the fact that I was much too lazy to do the worldbuilding that high fantasy requires. But instead of letting the concept go to waste, I brought it to life within a contemporary thriller.

8) What tropes do you think are important for spec fic?

Magical concepts that add originality and fun to the story. I always love to read stories with concepts I haven’t seen before.

9) What are tired tropes you wish you would read or write less?

Squeaky-clean heroes who always do the right thing.

10) What tense and POV do you enjoy writing in?

3rd Person Past Tense

11) What is your favorite internet resource for writing? This can be a website used for research, a blog, an advice article, William Shunn’s formatting guides, anything.

YouTube. There are so many videos out there that can demonstrate everything from damming a creek in the woods to properly using firearms.

12) Are you self-published or traditionally published, and, if the latter, small or large press?

Indie

13) What is your best advice about marketing, social media savvy, and building a platform?

Find something valuable that you can offer an audience on a regular basis. My weekly writing advice videos on YouTube have played a big part in driving book sales.

14) What advice can you offer aspiring authors about query letters, querying, and the publishing process as a whole, be it traditional or self-publishing?

Query Letters are brutal to write, but you need to take the time to learn how to nail a good query. If you can’t convince potential audiences to give your book a chance, all the effort you put into the book itself will go to waste.

Here’s a shortcut for writing good queries: Find a book similar to yours and copy/paste its Goodreads summary into a Word doc. Then see if you can use that as a template for your book’s summary. Plug in the names of your characters, switch sentences around, etc.

15) Recommend a great spec fic writer, published or unpublished, who has flown under the radar, who needs exposure, whose works you adore, or who is simply a must read?

John Everson. His books Covenant and NightWhere are two of the best supernatural horror novels I’ve ever read—especially NightWhere. It’s about a twisted sex club located on the boundary between earth and hell, and the book could best be described as Hellraiser meets Eyes Wide Shut.

16) Recommend a great spec fic book or movie that may have flown under the radar.

The movie Upgrade (2018) blew me away when I saw it in theaters. The trailers for it looked a little cheesy, but it’s a clever and fun horror/sci-fi story about a quadriplegic who regains control of his body with the help of a chip that’s implanted into his brainstem. As he surrenders more and more control to the chip…well, I won’t spoil. Go check it out.

17) What’s the best way to find you online?

http://brandonmcnulty.com/ or my YouTube channel Writer Brandon McNulty

October Halloween Microfiction Challenge

For the month of Halloween, I have set myself a microfiction challenge. I will be writing a one-sentence horror story per day for the entire month. See my Twitter or Facebook pages daily for these horror offerings.

Twitter: @BrandonTKetchum

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brandon.ketchum.5/

Legio Damnati Review

I am pleased to announce that Shell S. Has added a wonderful review of Legio Damnati, including an important trigger warning, over on Goodreads. Find the review here:

Legio Damnati Review

LEGIO DAMNATI, MY NEW SHORT STORY COLLECTION, NOW AVAILABLE

So, I did a thing. I wrote a collection of short stories about an alt-history Roman supernatural squad in the Gallic Wars battling monsters and magic under Caesar’s command. I may be biased, but cool, right? Almost as cool as the publisher, Air and Nothingness Press, who always puts out high-quality books. I can’t be more thrilled with the job their director, Todd Sanders, did with mine. Todd also not only overlooked a writer faux pas, but took advantage of an opportunity when I broke the rules of writerly etiquette.

What are writers absolutely verboten from doing when receiving a rejection letter? Responding. Like, at all. Not even to say “thank you” in that concise a format. I won’t go into the reasons why; suffice to say, it’s super annoying for editors. Well, when Todd rejected a story of mine with favorable comments, I couldn’t resist. I let him know I had more of these stories. Truthfully, at the time, I had exactly one more story finished.

There were no guarantees at any point until late in the process. Feedback consisted of, to summarize, “Cool, I’d be interesting in at least reading more.” So it began. The researching, the outlining, and, eventually, the writing. Aided by some false-alarm COVID off time, and by continued encouragement in the progress of the overarching story, I banged out the words. And, somewhere near the end of the first draft, the book was green lit. A day before falling and breaking my leg, I signed the contract. Recently, I received my contributor’s copies. I checked out the art, felt the material beneath my hand…I smelled the new book smell. And, let me tell ya, folks, I’m over the moon!

Now, full disclosure, I had rapport with Todd already, having worked with him before. I wouldn’t advise doing this blind with a stranger or just any editor. Speaks to how important networking within the writing and publishing community is, really. Also speaks to how breakable a lot of our writing rules are, under the right circumstances. Show don’t tell? Sound advice, often enough, yet certainly not universal. Don’t change tenses? Sure, don’t do that, until you’re comfortable with tense rules and unless you want to experiment, then go ahead and swap those tenses according to your cunning plan. Sometimes it’s worth taking a shot; sometimes risks pay off.

Another disclosure: Todd informs me he is full up right now on books and is not looking for or accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

You can buy the book here, at Air and Nothingness Press:
air and nothingness press – our catalog of books (aanpress.com)

The Archetypist

A few of my writer friends, Jacob and Kathleen, have put out their first podcast with the Archetypist, a wonderful setup of the deep dives they’re going to take into genre fiction. You can check out the Archetypist Patreon or go directly to the Genre 101 podcast. You can also find them at their Archetypist Podcast Twitter page. You can find Jacob and Kathleen individually on Twitter as @Prof_Bogs and @kunderscoremons. Enjoy!

Anxious to Admit…

Truth One: To say writers often feel anxiety is to say water is wet. Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes for writers. Small things, like figuring out a title for your WIP proving to be elusive, to major issues, like imposter syndrome, can crop up on any writer at any time. Imposter syndrome is, loosely defined, the idea that you as a writer aren’t good enough. I won’t go into names, but a major, awarded author I’ve met always suffers from anxiety and specifically imposter syndrome. What can we do about it? Stay grounded, do your best to work through it, and find good coping skills to deal with your anxiety. The last bit is your best bet.

Truth Two: Anxiety affects a large segment of the populace. This anxiety can range from being uncomfortable around people you don’t know to getting full-blown panic attacks that feel like heart attacks. Without involving medication talk, it’s fair to say that deep breathing exercises often helps, as can meditation. Grounding techniques are excellent coping skills, too, that help distract us from anxiety. Mental grounding can be as simple as listing favorite shows or can have you think about different sensory inputs. Physical grounding, like running warm or cold water over your hands, helps other people. Soothing grounding, engaging yourself in self-talk, may sound corny to some people, but it is essential for some folks to encourage themselves in this fashion. As grounding works to combat anxiety in mental health, so it works for writers experiencing anxiety, too.

Ten Things (about the past week):

1–I’ve gotten into a fantastic Australian show on Netflix called Rake. I think it started in 2010? Anyway, some great Australian actors make appearances in…odd roles.

2–I’ve been reading Station Eleven, which just about everyone has recommended. It’s good, although it is also highly purple. Having a hard time chunk reading with it for that reason.

3–Chugging along at a decent pace in my WIP. Got through a major scene, and the next chapter’s major emotional scene that followed.

4–Believe it or not, I researched Emily Post for a flash fiction story last week.

5–Big (non-writing) news may be in the pipeline. Sorry for the vaguebooking!

6–Sometimes not getting to do what you thought you were going to do on a given day or evening can turn out even better.

7–For something less vague, having a clean apartment is a relief and good for the soul.

8–Having an audiobook going as well as a hard copy of a book gives great “reading” options for when you can’t normally read–I just started The Rage of Dragons on audio, and so far, so fun.

9–My NFL team put in a “Same old Cardinals” type of performance in an atrocious loss yesterday.

10–But my English Premier League soccer team Newcastle United snatched a very undeserved point from a very undeserved tie with Tottenham Hotspur, so yay!

Self-Care

Truth One: Self-care is an integral part of mental health treatment. Being seen by a mental health professional can be hugely beneficial, but you’ll only be seeing them for a small fraction of your lives, an infinitesimal amount of time. Unless you learn to take care of yourself and exhibit good mental hygiene, no amount of therapy will put you on an even keel. Positive self-talk, healthy coping skills, a support network, and setting good boundaries are all things you need to do for YOU in order to achieve and maintain good mental health.

Truth Two: Positive self-talk, healthy coping skills, a support network, and setting good boundaries are all things you need to do for YOU in order to write effectively. It’s easy to see the momentous tasks you face as a writer and think that blunt force hard work is the only way to achieve your writing goals. Don’t get me wrong–it ALSO takes tons and tons of hard work. You also need to keep yourself and your mind healthy in order to achieve those goals. How will you maintain any kind of writing output if you don’t believe in yourself? By support network, I don’t just mean a critique group; it can be other writers, your family, anybody that supports you. As for boundaries? Well, we all know how social media and the internet can distract a writer 🙂

TEN THINGS (about the past week):

1–I’m reading Gideon the Ninth and hoping the denouement stays firmly in Gideon’s POV.

2–Yellowstone is the show du jour. Too expensive to watch old seasons on demand, but…BUT…now that I have to get Peacock Premium to watch soccer, I can catch up for free!

3–Back to my WIP and fully caught up in re-working the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the manuscript. Onwards and upwards!

4–For my WIP, I am researching the ancient Persian grappling technique studied by none other than the Iron Sheikh, believe it or not. It will be crucially important for a few astral fight scenes.

5–While it can be difficult dealing with health problems, hearing about friends dealing with them can suck just as much.

6–Playing a 4-hour game to a tie can be loads of fun.

7–It’s almost here. Fall. I feel chilly sometimes now. Guys, I FEEL CHILLY SOMETIMES NOW!!! How awesome is that?

8–I’d better not hear any Christmas songs before Halloween. Bad enough we have to endure the heresy of Christmas songs before Thanksgiving.

9–The thought of actually getting to clean up at a hoarder’s house that you’ve been harping on to get cleaned up? Daunting!

10–New beginnings are exciting, but having to put new beginnings on hold through no fault of your own is frustrating.

And, without explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EErSKhC0CZs

Group Therapy

Group Therapy

Truth One: Writing groups are amazing, IMO. I freely admit my writing was…raw, to be kind, before I attended my first writing group. I did so without any real knowledge of the group, and was nervous it wouldn’t be a good fit, until the first person walked in and had a bunch of fantasy books. Now I not only attend, but I run the group! Except, there IS no group right now, because ‘Rona. I’d be lost without my many writing friends, and their awesome input, critique, and overall support. Not having this group hurts, true, although I still attend an online writing group to this day. Woo technology!

Truth Two: Group therapy is a powerful recovery tool for people suffering addiction issues–folks, please don’t call them addicts. While a person may know in their head that there are others going through the same or similar things as they are, it may not make an impact without hearing from others, or learning from the group’s collective wisdom. Listening to “war stories,” swapping coping mechanisms, and just getting things out in the open can help a lot. That’s above and beyond what the group therapist has to offer, too. Group therapy can be useful for everything from addiction issues to trauma, but it isn’t for everyone. The same goes for self-help groups like NA and AA, although they can be a powerful recovery tool as well.

TEN THINGS (about the past week):

1–I just wrapped watching Netflix’s Trotsky, which was fantastic.

2–Finished up writing a Roman-era fantasy story, which is off to critters.

3–Still kind of reading Lovecraft Country, but to be honest, the DIS-honest characterization of it as a novel has put me off. It ISN’T a novel; it’s a collection of novellas/novelettes/short stories. The publisher just slapped the novel label on it, without even offering a table of contents. Pish!

4–I’m researching more for the day job recently than for writing.

5–Waiting SUCKS!

6–Re-connecting with old friends ROCKS!

7–Hearing bad things about former friends who suck, whom you had to cull from your life, can cause some guilt. I try not to wish bad things on anyone, but…yeah, if you suck, then karma.

8–Hope is mighty.

9–Even the most conservative of family members can shock you in a good way

10–Getting off to a start of your car not starting on Monday morning doesn’t have to destroy your day and/or week, although it does stink. I’m just thankful it just needed a jump–so far.

Because I’m feeling good despite some stressors in my life, let’s go with something goofy fun from Garfunkel and Oates: