Horror Writer John C. Adams talks Writing, Inspiration, and the Making of a Good Story

In the past few years, horror writer John C. Adams has seen countless short stories published in multiple anthologies. Her work has been johnlonglisted for the Aeon award twice, once in 2012 and again in 2013, and she currently works as a trainee reader for Albedo One Magazine, Ireland’s longest-running and foremost magazine for the fantastic genre. Her short story, “The Tangled Web,” was also published in Erebus’ Press anthology, How to Trick the Devil. Here, John takes a moment to discuss her beginnings as a writer, and some key advice she’s learned throughout the years.

1) How long have you been writing for? Why did you decide to write?

I wrote a lot as a child—the sort of private stuff children write when they have an unhappy childhood but never think about trying to have published. I also did a lot of play by mail gaming and went to cons like Dragonmeet and Games Day as a teen. Then I sort of drifted away from it at university. I think that can happen if you don’t have a regular gaming group, and, in my case, was exacerbated by the fact that I read social sciences at university. Perhaps if I’d pursued my dream of a math’s degree, it would’ve been different.

I started writing again after my daughter went to nursery and I was at home a lot more by myself. A sort of creative explosion, really, in parallel to the emotional development of having a family. It happens!

 2) What is it about the horror genre that attracts you?

 I care for my husband Brian, who’s severely disabled. He had a near-fatal heart attack in 2003 and suffered very bad brain damage as a result. He isn’t expected to get any better. Since then, he doesn’t know who anyone in the family is. He frequently confuses me with his late first wife and gets confused about who our kids are. I guess you could say we live a horror story every day!

 3) Your short story, “the Tangled Web,” has such a delightfully unexpected ending. What was the inspiration behind the story?

 The Hunter spider from this story is actually based on the Huntsman spider. Although native to Bangladesh I encountered them in Nepal during my gap year when I was teaching at an infant school. They hung in the trees in between the school and the tourist restaurants down by the lake in Pokhara. I’m terrified of spiders, and they are huge, so it’s a testimony to how hungry I was that I’d walk under them to get there. They spin massive webs to catch birds flying into the trees.

I guess I thought that most men wish their mother in law harm at some point, albeit thankfully few if any act on that emotion. Arthur’s mother in law is a tough old bird, literally, but she got cocky. A bird is the hunted, not the hunter, on a rural estate like Whiteacre where men are often out with their guns. And she paid the price.

4) Can you share a significant moment in your writing career? How did this affect you as a writer?

Probably when I got longlisted for the Aeon Award in 2013, after already having been longlisted in 2012. That meant a lot in itself because it’s a wonderful award with a great panel of really well known judges. Then the director of the award, Frank Ludlow, emailed personally to say he’d liked the stories. He’s been a great supporter of my writing since and subsequently asked if I wanted to do some submissions reading for the magazine too.

I think all of that gave me a lot more confidence in my writing, just at a time when I was starting to work on a novel. All budding writers need some time to take an interest, give good advice and sometimes just be a shoulder to cry on when it isn’t going well!

5) As a trainee reader for Albedo One magazine, what sort of traits do you look for in a good short story? How would you define a good story?

We get an immense variety of wonderful stories, both for the award and the magazine. Submission to both is very competitive. But we always take great care with each story we read. Frank’s honed the award submissions system over a number of years and of course for the magazine, there’s a strong team of highly experienced writers taking a good, long look at whatever’s sent in. We can ask for second, or third, opinions if we need to and that’s really helped a trainee like me!

Every submissions reader looks for something different, of course. I’ve seen some experimental stories and been really impressed by them, even though that’s not the kind of thing I usually write myself. I love a good strong story line, with a bit of something unexpected if possible. Plus definitely good characters, people who defy everyday expectations, and some insight into their personal journey and what’s made them that way.

6) Are you working on anything new right now?

Apart from caring for Brian, I’m at home full time as a writer so I’m usually working on something. I try to write every day if I can, because I find leaving time gaps between writing makes it harder to get started again.

I write a lot of short stories for magazines and anthologies. Rich Dodgin from Sinister Saints Press has picked up a lot of my stories for current and forthcoming anthologies. Just this week I’ve submitted a story for the current Music anthology and I’m just working on a longer fantasy story, which I hope he’ll accept for the current A Door Appeared anthology. I don’t usually write fantasy but I thought I’d try something different for a change.

7) What advice would you give for a new or aspiring writer?

Definitly to reach out to other writers, especially within your genre, because they will give you the best feedback and advice. Work at forming relationships in writing. Be confident enough to get in touch and ask for help. Lots of editors are looking for paid work! Earl Wynn, Associate Editor of Rogue Planet Press, has been an enormous practical help to my writing in the last year or so. He’s edited stories for my website and copy-edited my novel in progress this summer, and published fiction on his Farther Stars Than These ezine. He’s put me in touch with other editors and writers. It’s all about staying in touch, I think. Writing can seem like a lonely job but you’re not alone. There are so many people out there ready to help.

The other piece of advice is not to be put off by rejection. I still get lots and I’ve had lots in the past. I don’t expect that to change, either. Everyone gets rejections sometimes. The key is to balance looking at how the story could be better before submitting again elsewhere, but somehow also keeping in mind that rejection doesn’t say often too much about your writing. Most magazines are really overwhelmed with submissions and they have to say no to many people, even when they do want to include them!

Learn more about John C. Adams, and check out her awesome free stories, on her website: http://johncadams.wix.com/johnadamssf

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