Author & Editor Teams: Writing a Horror Novel with Chandler Baker
Ever been curious about editor/author relationships? In honor of our newly announced acceptance of All YA, we’ll be featuring different editor/author teams in different genres each week. First up, Horror! Chandler Baker, author of Teen Frankenstein and Teen Hyde, tag-teamed with her editor, Holly West, to answer some burning questions about crafting scary stories (and the importance of cohesive group Halloween costumes, of course). And be sure to check back tomorrow for Chandler’s questions for Holly!
Don’t you just love chilling tales of murder, monsters and things that go bump in the night? WE SURE DO! BOO!
Holly West (HW): Let's start off with something fun... what's your favorite scary movie?
Chandler Baker (CB): This is tough because, each October, my husband and I watch A LOT of horror movies. We’ve watched a particularly good crop this year, so I feel compelled to choose a recent favorite, which is The Witch, an excellent period film about a Puritan family banished from a plantation whose faith in each other is tested by the possibility of a witch in their midst.
HW: You're currently working on your third High School Horror novel at the moment (which I'm really looking forward to—You know I'm a huge Phantom fan). Now that you've got a couple of novels under your belt, what would you say was the most rewarding part of writing a horror novel?
CB: One of the things I love about all mediums of horror entertainment is the physical reaction it can bring out in the audience. Your pulse literally rises, palms get clammy, and you want desperately to look away while not being able to peel your eyes from the story—and that occurs completely from the comfort of your couch. Crazy! So I find real pleasure in hearing about those reactions from my readers. Either when they get goosebumps or find themselves too anxious to read my books at night or have a piece of unsettling imagery stick with them long after they’ve turned the last page.
HW: And, what is the most challenging part of writing horror?
CB: Horror movie directors have a lot of tools at their disposal. They can make a shot off center in a way that instinctively disturbs the viewer because we’re not sure what’s happening just off screen. They have creepy soundtracks. They have jump scares and special effects. A writer has to create all that, but with only a single tool—words. No easy feat!
HW: A lot of the inspiration for both Teen Frankenstein and Teen Hyde came from the classic horror. Do you have any advice for writers interested in writing horror?
CB: Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere! I think if you’re going to focus on one aspect of writing horror, it’s that. Look for setting and set pieces within scenes that will lend a hand in creating an unsettling mood for your reader. Horror, to me at least, is probably 80% about suspense and imagery. So linger there.
HW: Every author I've worked with has a different writing process. Can you describe yours?
CB: It changes from book to book. I call myself a recovering pantser, which means I’m just starting to try to rehabilitate myself into someone that outlines. For the last couple books, I’ve put together a chapter by chapter outline, which I share with you (!) and we discuss until we’re happy with it. The actual drafting always lends a few surprises, but it’s been very freeing to have the course set before I truly put pen to paper. I’ve also been enjoying the process of zero drafting, which for me means I’ll spend one day writing a bare bones version of the scene consisting of some actions that I know I’ll hit, dialogue and emotions I want to convey, but it’s very short and rough. The next day I go back and fill in the chapter to a form that I’m more happy with. When I get stuck I also do a four minute list-making exercise. First minute I jot down all the places a scene could take place, second minute all the objects that would be in that setting, third minute any emotions that the setting, the scene or the set pieces would make my main character feel and lastly I write a minute of any descriptions or lines that come to mind. It’s very effective!
HW: And finally, are you dressing up for Halloween this year?
CB: Yes! Of course. And this is breaking news! (Because my husband is militant about our family Halloween costumes being a surprise.) Bear in mind we have a one year old this year so our days of scary costuming are on hold. Our family will be doing a Grease-inspired dress up. My daughter will be preppy Sandra Dee and I’ll be the end-of-the-movie version while my husband will be a greaser. Naturally, we’ll be adorable. ;)