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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Interview: Alistair Cross

Perfect for these chilly days and long, dark nights, paranormal fiction author Alistair Cross is stopping by the blog today for a chat about his work, his life and the inspiration behind his fiction.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I was born in a tiny Utah town during the disco era, which I think pretty much explains my preference for fictional settings - as well as my affinity for all things corduroy. I quickly acquired a deep love of books, beginning with James Howe’s Bunnicula series, which sparked my interest in vampires and led me to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From there, I discovered Stephen King, and once that happened, my course as a spooky fiction author was pretty much set.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve always been a storyteller, and I’ve always been intrigued by any of the arts that allowed me to slip into a different skin and see the world from another perspective. I realized at a young age, however, that I was not a performer in any capacity, which cancelled out acting or singing - and so writing became the way. 
I’m very much a character-driven writer and even before I knew I was doing it, I was creating characters and the worlds they lived in. As far back as age six or seven, I can recall having fictional people “living” in my head, each complete with his or her own weaknesses, strengths, and struggles. 
That said, writing was not my first attempt at giving expression to these characters. Years ago, I got pretty heavily into photography and, for a while, found that to be an effective channel of delivery... but come to find out, most people prefer to be photographed looking glamorous and happy rather than being caked in ten pounds of ghoulish makeup and striking menacing poses in front of abandoned wells and crumbling buildings. Not that I blame them, but I wasn’t interested in being a wedding/boudoir/kiddie candids-type photographer. I didn’t want to take the kinds of pictures you’d frame and hang on your wall or give to your spouse on Valentine’s Day - I wanted to take the kinds of pictures from which people would recoil in abject terror... 
So, eventually, I hung up the camera, picked up the pen, and began writing - which was something I’d been itching to do seriously since childhood, anyway.
Tell me about Sleep, Savannah, Sleep.
Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is a paranormal murder mystery that takes place in an eerie (and fictional) little California town called Shadow Springs. My protagonist, Jason Crandall, has moved there with his two children - young Amber and rebellious teenager, Brent - with high hopes of starting over after the recent loss of his wife. After settling into the dilapidated old Victorian, he begins setting up his new business as a massage therapist - and once the locals catch wind of what he does, he begins acquiring a steady influx of very interesting clients, one of whom is a beautiful young woman named Savannah Sturgess, who has every man in town under her very dangerous spell. 
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Image: Alistair Cross
When Savannah turns up missing, Jason’s childhood night terrors return, and this time he thinks they’re trying to tell him something. When his dreams lead him - and the police - to Savannah’s murdered remains, Jason finds himself in the unsettling position of trying to prove his innocence.
Meanwhile, there’s a murderer on the loose, and through his dreams, Savannah seems intent on leading him to her killer. Could it be the jealous wife-beating husband who was having an affair with her on the side? Or the sheriff, who has some pretty incriminating secrets of his own? And what does the old blind woman in the house next door have to do with any of it, and what is she trying to tell Jason as she draws invisible designs on the window glass late at night while staring at him with those dead sightless eyes? 
As Jason grows closer to unravelling the mystery, his own life is in danger, but what he doesn’t know is that sometimes, the truth is worse than anything - even death itself.
What’s the best thing about writing paranormal fiction?
Tiptoeing through the unknown. Being able to really spend time reflecting on the mysteries of the universe, then putting yourself in your character’s shoes and walking through that world. I’ve always found the obscure and unattainable to be very seductive - it seems to be part of my wiring or something - and writing paranormal fiction is my way of being able to wade in those deep and uncharted waters.
How do you get inspiration?
Inspiration comes from everywhere - books, movies, dreams, the news, you name it - and I love it when it strikes, but I’ve learned not to rely on it. The more important thing, in my opinion, is learning to how to write even when you don’t feel like it. The muses are wonderful and when they show up for work they serve me well, but like any other endeavour, success is dependant on discipline, determination, and developing good habits.
What draws you to writing mysteries?
To be honest, I’m not drawn to writing mysteries any more than I’m drawn to writing comedy, horror, romance, or anything else. I’m drawn to the story and I don’t consider it my business what genre people want to put it in. In the case of Sleep, Savannah, Sleep, I was struck by a seed of an idea and I knew right away that it was a murder mystery - but that was incidental. The important thing, to me, was that I had a great idea, and beyond that, I didn’t give it any more thought. I just write. What shelf the books get put on at the bookstore doesn’t interest me.
Do you find it difficult to write in this genre?
The trickiest thing about the mystery genre is planting the right amount of clues. You have to have enough that the end isn’t a total cheap shot, but not so many that you blow the killer’s cover. Readers of murder mysteries want to be very involved in the story, piecing it together right alongside your main character, so you have to be very careful how much information you give away and how much you omit. Also, mystery is tricky because you have to know exactly where you’re going, and there isn’t much room for detours. This is the only book I’ve written backwards - meaning, I wrote it with the end in mind - and that created a few hurdles along the way. But overall, I loved writing in this genre and can see myself doing it again.
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Image: Alistair Cross
What’s your writing process?
A long, tedious, and (to be honest) boring one. I get up around 9 a.m. (most days), drink coffee and pet the cat for a while to prepare myself for the day. Unless I get carried away, pet too hard, and the cat decides we should part company prematurely, this goes on for about half an hour, during which time I try to get my synapses firing with the help of caffeine and funny videos on YouTube. Then I get in touch with my collaborator, Tamara Thorne (we write together via Skype and the Cloud even when we’re working on our respective solos) and that’s when the day officially begins. 
We go hard until about six or seven p.m., spending a set amount of time on each project and taking small sanity breaks in between to play on Facebook or whatever strikes our fancies at the time. This happens Monday through Friday, with late evenings and Saturdays mainly spent on other writerly duties like marketing and PR. I take Sundays off because if I didn’t I’d explode - and who has time to clean up that kind of mess?
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Having to be creative when you’re just not feeling it. Aside from that, writing is alarmingly all-consuming so there’s really no spare time to do much else. I don’t know if it’s that way for other writers, but between the solo novels and the Thorne & Cross novels with Tamara, writing is a pretty demanding gig.
What do you love most about writing?
Not having to spend my day doing something I don’t care about while making money for someone else. Maybe I’m just pathologically controlling, but I love being in full charge of how I spend my time. Life is short, and I don’t like squandering even a drop of time on anything that isn’t going directly into the bucket which will eventually become my future. When the bucket is full, then I’ll relax. Until then, I’m going to keep doing what I love, what I wholeheartedly believe I was put here to do - write.
Which authors inspire you?
I’m inspired by any writer who has the grit and determination to make writing a reality - but I’m especially inspired by those who not only make it, but those who keep it. What I mean is that, as hard as it is to write a book, it’s even harder to do the next one and the next one after that. Many authors burn out after a handful of books, and while I can understand that, I don’t want to be one of them.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Don’t take advice from other writers. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. All I can say is, write. No matter what, write. You don’t need a teacher, you don’t need a degree, you don’t need to belong to a certain writers’ group or be a part of the “community,” and you don’t need to seek advice from other writers, except by reading tons of books and learning what the good ones do. Beyond that, all you need to do is write, get damned good at it, and then write some more.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To maintain the ability to support myself with writing and grow my audience at a steady, respectable pace while consistently writing novels that are the very best they can be. I set goals and they’re always evolving and growing as each one is achieved, but my ultimate ambition is, very simply, to be a better writer tomorrow than I was today.
What are you currently working on?
Now that Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is finished, I’ve gone back to collaborating full-time with Tamara Thorne on our upcoming vampire thriller, Darling Girls, which serves as a continuation of both her solo novel Candle Bay and my solo, The Crimson Corset. Our vampires are buddies, you see, and they’re taking a road trip up to the mysterious town of Eternity, California, for a sort of vampire family reunion which is bound to end in blood, tears, and trauma … with plenty of sexiness along the way, of course. While all of our books (the solos as well as the collaborations) take place within the same fictional universe (we love cross-pollinating), Candle Bay, The Crimson Corset, and the upcoming Darling Girls are particularly closely-knit novels - and I am loving every minute of our twisted little vampire tale. 
Also, with The Witches of Ravencrest (the second in the Ravencrest saga) released in July, Tamara and I are about to begin instalments for book three, which will be titled, Exorcism. The Ravencrest Saga, a gothic horror in the vein of Dark Shadows and Rebecca, is ongoing as well, and we’re itching to get back to it. 
And finally, as a solo act, I’m very gently breaking myself into the next novel (I am exhausted!) which concerns a deranged psychopath who owns a cabin in the mountains, and the object of his obsession: the beautiful young woman he’s decided to start a new life with - whether she likes it or not.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Dark Half by Stephen King. Somehow, I’ve never read it before now. And so far, I’m loving it.
Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is available to buy now. To find out more about Alistair and his work, you can check out his website

Are you a fan of paranormal fiction? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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