E.F. Watkins, winner of the 2004 EPPIE for Best Horror novel, is the author of three paranormal thrillers, a suspense novel, and numerous short stories. A professional journalist for more than 30 years, Eileen has written about art, architecture, fine crafts and interior design for daily newspapers and local, national and international magazines.
You claim that Ira Levin, Dean Koontz and Barbara Michaels influenced your writing. How and why?
I admire Ira Levin for writing some truly creepy, classic plots, such as ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE STEPFORD WIVES, that relied on almost no “onstage” violence or gore. I also like his recurring themes of people being betrayed by those close to them, and the fact that his characters tend to be sophisticated and intelligent.
In general, I prefer Dean Koontz’s characters to Stephen King’s. I find his “good guys” more sympathetic and I think he writes women well. Stephen King is an excellent writer, but I find his world view a little bleak. That may sound like an odd criticism for horror, but in Koontz there’s usually more of a catharsis and hope for humanity, I think.
I was delighted to discover Barbara Michaels (just about 10 years ago), because she was writing mysteries with actual ghosts in them before it was the thing to do. I guess you could call her books updated Gothics, with stronger female characters than the old kind.
It would take a lot of space to explain how these writers have influenced me, but I explore themes similar to Levin, I think my world view is more like Koontz, and I like to mix mystery with paranormal like Michaels.
You’ve written “straight” romantic mystery and paranormal thriller novels. Is the process different writing in different genres?
Yes and no. My mystery RIDE A DANCING HORSE is suspenseful and probably has a similar style and pacing to my thrillers. It’s much less violent—pretty PG, really—but it’s emotional. In addition to their feeling for each other, my hero and heroine are frequently worried about the welfare of their farm and horses. To me, that’s emotional turmoil! Also, as you know, in a mystery you generally don’t find out “who done it” until close to the end, so I couldn’t paint any one suspect as too villainous. I had to plant clues that seemed to lead in various directions. In my thrillers, I can cut loose and make the bad guy really nasty!
You were a professional journalist for many years. How did it prepare you for writing fiction?
I think it polished my nuts-and-bolts skills, because spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure are second nature to me. I proofread carefully, I know how to cut a passage without losing the sense of it and I know how to take criticism and make changes. I’m constantly working with editors who may ask me to do those things and will call me on any mistakes. Plus, I know how to put my butt in a chair and write something in whatever time I have available to me.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Lack of time. I’ve written most of my books while holding down full-time writing jobs. It’s possible to write five novels by putting in an hour a night and a couple more on weekends, but it makes it hard to do much else. The most difficult part is finding time to get lost in the story, imagine a scene fully, noodle around and try different approaches. These days, I carry a microcassette recorder in my car and brainstorm aloud while I’m commuting. That way, when I sit down to write at night I already have a lot of the bugs worked out.
What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.
My latest is DANU’S CHILDREN, which came out this spring. A photojournalist returns to his small home town in Pennsylvania “coal country” for his cousin’s funeral, and begins to suspect the cousin was murdered. Digging deeper, he discovers an ongoing battle between the shady developer of a new mall/conference center and a grassroots group that’s against it. The hero’s cousin was reporting on the project for the local paper—did the developer have him killed? Or are the seemingly high-minded protesters more dangerous than they appear? Who’s responsible for the burned body that turns up in the woods, the road collapse that exposes barrels of toxic waste, and the dynamiting of the construction site? The hero feels drawn to the beautiful leader of the protesters, only to find she’s also a pagan priestess and believes a Celtic earth god will help them defeat the mall project…one way or the other. It’s available on Amazon and from my publisher at http://amberquill.com/DanusChildren.html.
What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?
At the moment, I’m finishing a prequel to DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, which was my first published book. So far, I’m calling it ONE BLOOD. Yes, vampires—but I come by them honestly, because DD came out in 2003, before the latest wave! I’ve been told by readers and one reviewer that they were curious to know how the hero and heroine of DD got together, so I decided to polish up that story and put it out there. Ironically, even though I know they end up together, I’m having a devil of a time right now getting them to see eye to eye. They have every reason to battle each other to the death!
Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?
Wow, just one? Write for the love of it, because there’s no knowing how long it will take you to get published. It took me decades.
You are not only a member of several writing organizations, you helped found the Garden State Horror Writers. How has membership in these organizations helped your career?
Membership in GSHW introduced me, in a roundabout way, to my publisher. I heard a guest speaker at one of the meetings talk about electronic and POD publishing, and long story short, she eventually became an editor with Amber Quill Press. I was one of the first authors they published shortly after they formed in 2002. I often learn helpful things from speakers at meetings of the organizations I belong to. I also join with other members to sell my books at conferences and even street fairs. In September, I sold my books alongside other local authors at two street fairs, and did pretty well! I also can’t say enough about the input I get from my biweekly critique group. Those folks are objective and honest and keep me on the right path. It’s like having my future readers sitting in front of me saying, “that works” and “that doesn’t.” By the time I send a book to my editors, I feel confident that I’ve gotten rid of the biggest goofs, anyway!
Do you have any upcoming book signings or appearances? If so, give us all the details.
On October 17th, I’m going to be at the Barnes & Noble (Arena Hub) in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with some other authors, doing a Halloween Horror Signing. On October 24th, I’ve got a signing at 7 p.m. at the New Age store Practical Magick in Pompton Lakes, N.J., and on October 25th, I’m joining other local authors for a 1 p.m. panel on Villains at West Milford Town Hall in West Milford, N.J. I’ll also be helping to staff the Garden State Horror Writers table during Philcon 2009 in Cherry Hill, N.J., and with any luck I’ll be on a panel or two, as well.
Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.
I’m delighted to see the popularity today of so much paranormal fiction that isn’t necessarily hard-core “horror.” That’s the kind of thing I’ve been writing for decades, and whaddya know—suddenly it’s actually being sought by publishers!
What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):
Web site: http://www.efwatkins.com/. My only blog right now is on my MySpace page, www.myspace.com/efwatkins. I am NOT much of a blogger. I write and edit all day at work, I write my fiction at night…I really don’t have much time or energy left to just shoot the breeze. But once in a while I do check in to bring the blog up to date.