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 Marc L. Abbott, 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?
MLA: My story, The Bells, is the story of a man who uncovers a horrible family secret when he goes to settle his father’s estate. Restless spirits in the house terrorize him using bells to get his attention, then forcing him to confront the truth about the man his father was and why he may or may not be the true heir to the family fortune.
In the story, I talk about the use of bells as a way of the dead reaching out to the living. I was inspired to use this idea after reading about how bells used to be connected to headstones with a string that was connected to the corpse when someone was buried. This was done because often times a misdiagnosis would lead to a person being buried alive. If a person were to wake up in their coffin they could pull on the string and the bell would ring, signaling to anyone nearby that the person should be dug up immediately. I built the story off of that then went back to include the family dynamic and the idea that appearances are very deceiving especially when lies are accepted as truth.
eSB: What was the greatest challenge you had coming up with an idea that would stand out among the other submissions?
MLA: It was the setting for me. I have written ghosts stories before, but they have often been set in the present. This time around I wanted to challenge myself and do a period piece. I also wanted to make the whole reason for why the ghosts do what they do a bit more complex than say a simple haunting. I wanted to give the ghost a true purpose to what they are doing and coming up with something believable and not filled with tropes, that was also a challenge.
eSB: Is your story a part of a greater uinverse 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?
MLA: This story is a stand-alone tale and not part of any of my other works. What makes this story unique is that in this universe the ghosts interact with one another in order to tell their own tragic story. They are also capable of being seen by anyone who comes to their residence. They don’t stay hidden or use many parlor tricks to the attention of the living. They’re very straightforward in their ways.
eSB: Do you foresee writing more stories with this character or in this world? Whichever your answer, why?
MLA: I don’t see myself revisiting these characters or revisiting this world I created. There isn’t anymore that I feel I want to say about the living or dead characters here. This is really a one-and-done type of tale which allows the reader to make up in their own minds what they think happens beyond the end.
eSB: Okay, first off the top of your head, who is your favorite ghost and why?
MLA: My favorite ghost, hmm, it would have to be Joseph from the movie The Changeling with George C. Scott. That ghost really scared me when I saw that film because of how he interacted with the environment around him. The things he would do to get Scott’s attention ranged from subtle to haunting playful. He never did anything harmful but they were often unexpected (chasing someone down in a rickety wheelchair comes to mind) and it would send chills through me. It still scares me to this day when I think about it.
eSB: Do you believe in ghosts, and why? Is there an experience in your life you can share with us that strengthened that belief?
MLA: I absolutely believe in them. I had an experience when I was little, shortly after my grandfather passed away, I was staying over my grandparent’s house and sleeping in the bed he used to. I remember I woke up and saw a figure in the dark walking toward the bed from an adjacent room. I could tell it was my grandfather from the hunched way he was walking. I pulled the covers over my head and a few seconds later I felt his hand touch my shoulder. When I pulled the covers back he was walking away then he disappeared. My family told me that he came to look in on me.
eSB: What haunts you as an author?
MLA: This may sound silly but my 9 to 5 haunts me as an author. That chunk of time I spend working there gets in the way of the amount of time I could be writing. If I could do both at the same time I’m sure it wouldn’t bother me as much.
eSB: What drew you to appreciate the horror genre? What inspired you to write in it?
MLA: Mine was more of who than a what. My father was the one who drew me to the genre when I was a boy. We used to watch old Universal horror movies on PBS on Saturday Nights and the way he would explain the backstories of the monsters was fascinating to me. He had a way of speaking in a kind of Vincent Price voice to make the story more ominous which forced me to ask questions and look up information on monsters. This was also I realized a ploy to get me to read spooky stories. After being introduced to Edgar Allen Poe and the short story, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, I started dabbling in writing my own horror stories. What inspired me was the challenge to one-up anything I saw or read and see if I could scare myself with my own work. If I could do that, I knew I was on the right path.
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.
MLA: I have two books that are not horror. One is a YA coming-of-age novel called The Hooky Party about two high school seniors who throw a hooky party after their Senior Cut Day is canceled by their principal. Then there is my children’s book, Etienne and the Stardust Express which tells the story of a little boy and his dog who use the power of imagination to travel through France and Italy without ever leaving home.
While there are scary stories found in YA and Children’s genres, these two stories I wrote were more grounded in reality than my dark fiction. Children use their imagination all the time when playing by themselves with their toys or after they see a movie they will act out scenes pretending they’re in the story. I felt like I could just go with the flow and really explore that ideology. With YA, having to go back and remember what that time was like (this story takes place in 1990) as a teenager I took a very light-hearted approach. I lingered a lot on the good times and aspects of how my friendships were. I can really be free to explore and have fun. Horror is a different animal for me. I feel like I need to know where I am at all times. I can’t be all over the place and come back to the linear tale. The objective is to make the reader unsettled and on edge which means that I often need to be on edge when I write. It’s fun but much darker.
eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?
MLA: I do live storytelling. I tell true stories about my life on stage and I run a monthly storytelling show called Maaan You Got To Hear This (at least I did before COVID but I intend to go back to it). I’m a 2015 Moth Grand slam Storytelling Winner as well. So, not all of my stories are fiction.
eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?
MLA: I have two horror novels I penned with fellow author Steven Van Patten, Hell at the Way Station, and the sequel, Hell at Brooklyn Tea. I am also featured in several anthology collections including Under Twin Sun (Order of Wilde), Hell’s Mall (Djinn in Tonic), Hell’s Heart (A Marked Man), and New York State of Fright (Welcome to Brooklyn, Gabe). I also have two non-horror books. A children’s book entitled Etienne and the Stardust Express and a YA coming-of-age novel called The Hooky Party.
eSB: As a horror author, where do you find support for your writing?
MLA: I’ve found a lot of support through the HWA since I joined in 2013. Being given the chance to participate in readings, have publishing opportunities, and get the help I need, I always know there is someone there willing to support what I do.
eSB: What advise would you give aspiring horror writers?
MLA: Write about what scares you. Tap into that one thing that makes you afraid and incorporate it into your work. Also, do your research on the type of monsters you want to write about. Don’t just rely on the fiction you know or have read before. There are always very fascinating nuances to things and interesting history when it comes to folklore. You will be pleasantly surprised what you discover and how much you use to make your own work stronger.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
MLA: Readers can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
I also have a website www.whoismarclabbott.com where they can catch up with me on my latest projects and appearances.
Photo: John F. Sheehan Photography (www.jfsheehanphoto.com)
Marc L. Abbott is the author of the YA novel The Hooky Party and the children’s book Etienne and the Stardust Express. He is the co-author of Hell at Brooklyn Tea and Hell at the Way Station, the two-time African American Literary Award-winning horror anthology with award-winning author Steven Van Patten. His horror short stories are featured in the anthologies, Hells Heart, Hells Mall, Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories of the Yellow Sign and the Bram Stoker Nominated horror anthology New York State of Fright.
In film, he is the writer and director of the horror shorts SNAP and Being Followed. A two-time nominated best actor for his role in the science fiction film Impervia and Best Actor winner for the film Identity Check.
In storytelling, A 2015 Moth Story Slam and Grand Slam Storyteller winner. The writer and performer of the storytelling solo shows Love African American Style and Of Cats and Men: A Storytellers Journey. He is the host of the monthly storytelling show Maaan, You’ve Got to Hear This! in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
In addition to being an active member of the HWA New York Chapter, Gamma Xi Phi Fraternity and co-host on Beef, Wine and Shenanigans, he also heads the Beyond the Tropes reading series with the Center of Fiction in Brooklyn, NY .
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