These interviews are related to our GHOST AND GHOULS AND OTHER CREEPY THINGS campaign. For those just joining us, we are crowdfunding three projects on Kickstarter and also taking some time to introduce you to our participating authors, some of whom are new to eSpec. The campaign has passed the halfway point! Check it out to see how we’re doing, and what awesome rewards are left to be had!
eSpec Books interviews Alp Beck, contributor to Even in the Grave, edited by James Chambers and Carol Gyzander.
eSB: Even in the Grave is a collection of ghost stories, without spoilers, can you tell us a bit about your story and how you came up with the idea?
AB: Bob Burchwald wakes up in a hospital room after a devastating car accident. He has no memory of the event or anything before. He moves back into his mother’s house to recuperate, when he does, small bits surface, but not enough to form a full picture. He is not bothered by any of this until he remembers he has a daughter.
When I started, I only had the picture of a plump, middle-aged man, living in his mother’s house, building airplane models in his old study. The story changed over time and became a different animal. Not to sound dramatic, but I felt haunted as I wrote it. The process felt different from my usual routine. I felt somewhat diffused as if my memory was also compromised along with Bob’s. Writing it was difficult, I felt the darkness the characters were experiencing as if it was my own. There were moments where I wasn’t sure which of the two main protagonists pushed my pen. It was an odd experience. Time will tell if I simply lost my mind, or I was so deep in the process that I lost my own identity. It was the first time I finished something but felt as if someone else had written it.
eSB: What was the greatest challenge you had coming up with an idea that would stand out among the other submissions?
AB: Finding a story that would surprise me. Hopefully, I succeeded.
eSB: Is your story a part of a greater universe stemming from other stories you have written, or does it stand alone? Whichever your answer, can you tell us about what makes that universe unique?
AB: Schrödinger’s Ghost stands on its own. It’s steeped in what obsessed me at the time: physics, the nature of reality, who we are—really, and the possibility that we are many things at once.
eSB: Do you foresee writing more stories with this character or in this world? Whichever your answer, why?
AB: Not with the same characters. I’m done with them, but there is a possibility I might explore their world further. As I wrote it, each answer created more questions.
eSB: Okay, first off the top of your head, who is your favorite ghost and why?
AB: Don’t laugh, it’s but the ghost from, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, played by Rex Harrison in the 1947 film, featuring Gene Tierney. I’m a romantic at heart, plus I had a huge crush on Harrison.
eSB: Do you believe in ghosts, and why? Is there an experience in your life you can share with us that strengthened that belief?
AB: Yes, but not in the traditional sense. More likely, there are many overlapping ‘realities’ and sometimes we perceive the inhabitants of these other planes. I’ve experienced many things that are not explained with today’s definition of science. I’m pretty sure that fire must have seemed like magic at some time. Today’s science is yesterday’s magic. When I was 13 we moved into a house my dad had rented, in Flushing, Queens. We were always broke, so we couldn’t afford phone service. This was in the early 70s, before cell service, wireless, or cordless phones, when you could not buy your own phone. You could only rent one from the phone company that provided service. The only residential phones in existence were corded black or tan varieties with one cord going into the walls. The cord fed the phone service and power to the unit.
When we moved in, a large, clunky rotary phone sat on a small round table in the foyer. It was not plugged into anything. The cut cord hung limply by its side. I lifted the handset and listened: nothing. It was dead.
My stepmom, Gregg – short for Gregoria – played the piano. We placed her upright piano in the foyer. Gregg practiced every morning. She played short pieces, piano exercises, scales, etc. Sometimes she worked on original compositions. On this day, Gregg started with Bach’s Ave Maria. As soon as her fingers hit the keys, the phone rang. I came running, and we both just stared at the phone. I walked over and looked for the cord. Yup, still sat there, unplugged as the phone continued to ring. I hesitated, then picked up the handset. The line was open, echoey like the other side sat in a large open space. You could feel the vastness. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. I said, “Hello?” Nothing. I felt the open connection, but to where I could not guess. I hung up and just stared at my mom who was by now looking thoroughly spooked. I picked up the handset again and now it was dead as usual; no open line.
From then on, anytime Gregg played Ave Maria, the phone would ring. Greg, or I, would pick up the line and be greeted by that creepy feel of the open line. Somehow, we both had the feeling that someone was at the other end, listening, trying to speak. We got used to it. Even once we were able to get phone service, we left that phone on the table, unconnected.
Many weird things happened in that house. We were sure we had a poltergeist. Many mornings we’d walk into the kitchen to find all the cabinet doors opened and many of the canned goods on the floor. Yeah, definitely haunted.
eSB: Have you ever incorporated aspects of your own experiences in your fiction? Tell us about it.
AB: Not in my early work, but I’m doing some of that now. The novella I’m working on, FRESH, incorporates my experiences as a traveling underwriter, (admit it, you thought I was going to say, circus clown) and the familiarity I developed as a professional traveler.
eSB: What haunts you as an author?
AB: Boring my readers.
eSB: What drew you to appreciate the horror genre? What inspired you to write in it?
AB: I grew up in the middle of nowhere, in the countryside outside of Rome, Italy. Our house was the only one for miles. A road had to be built to reach it. I was raised by my grandparents. My frequent companions were feral cats, and the wild boars and vipers that would chase me through the woods. I learned to climb trees really fast. The only reading material in the house was my grandfather’s medical reference books, along with works by Homer, Virgil, and Cicero. So, from the age of six and on, that’s what I read. I didn’t see a children’s book until I was nine. Let me tell you something, going through medical journals featuring gruesome, fluorescently lit human deformities and injuries can really shape a mind. During the school year I was in convent schools run by nuns, not the Catholic-lite ones they had here, but the ones dressed all in black, with the huge wooden crucifixes dangling by their waists, where the only visible skin was that of their face and hands. Those hands were capable of a lot. How could I be anything else but a horror writer?
eSB: Other than horror, what genres do you write in? Tell us something about your other works and what makes those genres different from writing horror.
AB: I love writing essays and observational non-fiction pieces. There is something wonderful in opening up a topic in unexpected ways and focus on a common topic but come at it from a surprising angle.
eSB: What is your least favorite aspect of being an author, and why?
AB: Getting up early. I’m not capable of it anymore, and I do my best writing in the early morning. So I’m in a constant internal battle to reclaim the early hours. Most times I lose.
eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?
AB: I opened for Tiny Tim.
eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?
AB: You can find my short stories:
HEELS in New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State edited by James Chambers
DEADMALL in Hell’s Mall: Sinister Shops, Cursed Objects and Maddening Crowds edited by April Grey
TO THINE SELF BE TRUE in Hell’s Grannies: Kickass Tales of the Crone edited by April Grey
SB: As a horror author, where do you find support for your writing?
AB: My wife, Barbara and my friend, Laurie. In addition, nothing beats the amazing support and friendship I’ve found in the Horror Writers Association. The HWA is like a big, soft cushion of support, filled by amazing warm, generous, kind and welcoming writers. Whether experienced or beginners, I can’t say enough great things about being part of the HWA. Maybe because of what we write and because sometimes people sometimes tilt their heads and look at you with that, ‘uh-oh, I thought she was normal’ look, that space is so important. Writers, by nature, are like plants. We work alone, we are lost in our fictional worlds, roaming among our characters, but when we come up for air, the company of oddballs like you is welcome and needed. It feeds our soul and supports our dreams. You can’t ask for more.
eSB: What advice would you give aspiring horror writers?
AB: Keep at it. Your skills get better the more you write.
Embrace rejection. When you receive a rejection, the editor is responding to you as a writer, not you personally. They assume you are a professional. Editors are underpaid, (sometimes unpaid) overworked humans, who might have had a bad morning, had a fight with their other half, spilled coffee on themselves, or had their apartment invaded by bedbugs. In other words, you don’t know what is going on in their world when they come across your manuscript. If they give you advice, heed it. It’s rare, and you should be flattered they took the time to do it.
Read everything, every subject, not just horror. Expand your world to include wide topics. If you only read horror, you will eventually only mimic what you read.
Write the first draft for you. Don’t worry about how strange, good or weird it is. Write what you want. Shut off the inner editor. When you start your 2nd draft, become your reader. Cut all the extra; doesn’t matter that you think it’s pretty or clever. If it doesn’t move the story forward it has no business being there. You need to be merciless.
Be professional. Format your manuscript correctly, follow the submission guidelines for where you’re submitting to. Make sure to do your research. Don’t be lazy. Nothing throws a reader out of your world faster than a poorly researched scene. For example, if you are writing a scene with police in it, make sure the procedure you’re describing is accurate. You might have readers that are cops and they will know that you couldn’t be bothered to get the details right. It’s insulting.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
AB: I have a couple of horror themed fairy tale shorts I’m working on, along with FRESH, my passion project.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
AB: Any of my social media links or website will give you more details. But the best way, is read my stuff. That’s where the chewy center resides.
Alp Beck lives in New York City. She writes in all genres but prefers horror. Her essays have been featured in the NY Times and the NY Blade. She is a big fan of the short story format and believes “Only when you master the art of the short story, are you ready to tackle novels.” Therefore, she will continue to writer in the format until “she gets it right”. You can find her story, TO THINE SELF BE TRUE, in Hell’s Grannies: Kickass Tales of the Crone, by Lafcadio Press, HEELS, in A New York State of Fright, by Hippocampus Press and DEADMALL, in the anthology, Hell’s Mall by Lafcadio Press. She is hard at work on a series of stories, including EYEWITNESS and THE UNDERRIDE.
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