Interview With Debbie A. Stansil
Interview With Debbie A. Stansil
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
For me, this would have to be vanity publishers – those who prey on new writers and make them think they are getting something worth having. Really they are getting a big bill and a whole host of headaches.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
The exact same thing I tell any aspiring writers now – anyone who says it’s impossible to make money from writing didn’t try hard enough to make it happen.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have a half finished manuscript from years ago that I keep telling myself I’m going to polish up and finish – one day. I also have a half finished collection of short stories, which is my current project and will become the latest installment in Twisted Tales, my short story series.
I also have a list of ideas I want to turn into novels and some more non-fiction books in the pipeline that have outlines and not much else at this moment.
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
I had been writing about a year when I set myself a target to go full time. I gave myself six months to make it happen, and I had quit my day job to become a full time writer about three months after that. I just kind of realized that day that if I didn’t do it now, I never would.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The actual writing of the book doesn’t take all that long – maybe a week or two for an average length novel. It’s the re-writing and editing that takes the time.
To go from literally nothing but a whispered idea to a ready-to-publish book, it takes me around two months.
If you were running the 100 yard dash with a new writer. What writing, publishing wisdom would you bestow upon him/her before you reached the 100 yards?
I would tell them that writing an epic novel is only a quarter of the battle – after that comes the hard part; marketing it. I would tell them to learn everything they can about editing and make sure their final draft is as good as it can be, to learn to let go of that awesome paragraph that you leave in there because you love it, not because it moves the story forward.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
I usually start with a rough idea of where the story will go, but it usually ends up going somewhere completely different. The characters definitely tell their own stories, no matter how much I resist – and in their defense, they usually have a much better story to tell than the one I planned on giving them.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
I actually have two.
One would have to be Melanie from Gaze (one of the short stories in the first installment of Twisted Tales). She is twisted in every sense of the word, but somehow, there is something a tiny bit relatable about her and even though what she does is appalling, I think most people will find themselves rooting for her a little bit, even though they don’t want to.
The other is Nora from The Asylum Tour, my most recent novel. Nora is a woman ahead of her time. A woman who stood up for what she believed in and what she thought was right. A woman who didn’t let anyone tell her she couldn’t change the world.
When I started writing The Asylum Tour, I was so fed up of reading books where I wanted to shake all of the female characters (especially in the horror genre which is my favorite genre for both reading and writing) and I knew I wanted to write a book that had strong women in it. I think I achieved that Nora, Jeannie and Sarah, all strong in their own ways.
What marketing strategies do you find most helpful? Any resources you would recommend to other authors or aspiring authors?
The best advice I was ever given when it comes to marketing is to learn who your ideal reader is and where they hang out – and go there to talk to them about your book. So if your ideal reader is a Twitteraholic, don’t spend all of your time on Instagram.
The other thing that always stuck with me is to tell people what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. So instead of saying “check out my new book blah blah blah” which is telling them what they can do for you, tell them what they’ll get out of your book.
What do you like to read in your free time?
As I mentioned above, my favorite genre is horror, but I also love YA fiction, especially the stuff with a dystopian feel or a unique concept, psychological thrillers and crime, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m rather partial to real life possession and haunting tales too.
Born in 1982 in North East England, I knew from an early age I wanted to be a writer. Life got in the way, and the dream was put on the back burner, although never forgotten. I am now a full time author and freelance writer and I write my own blog, My Random Musings.
I have published three novels, two short story collections, two non-fiction books and a collection of funny poems.
Blog link: www.myrandommusings.co.uk
Amazon Author Page: https://goo.gl/FrXC4V
Excerpt from The Asylum Tour
The Riley Asylum, November 1st 1953
The first thing Sergeant Gormley noticed as he pushed the door open as wide as it would go was the blood. Blood everywhere. On the walls, staining the beds, pooling on the floor.
He could see footprints smeared in the blood where people had tried to run away. He had known it was going to be bad by the coppery smell that had greeted him half way along the corridor, but he hadn’t imagined this. No one could have imagined this.
None of the would be escapees had gotten very far. The room was strewn with bodies. Some had been hacked almost into pieces. A stray arm laid on top of a bed, it’s body on the floor beside it. On another bed lay a leg, unattached to anyone, the stump angry red. The body it belonged to was nowhere in sight.
Everywhere Sergeant Gormley looked there were lumps of flesh. Some were identifiable, others were just chunks of red that stood out against the pasty grey decor. Skin, finger nails and a grey, soft looking substance which he recognised as brain matter were scattered through the mess.
The smell in the room made him want to retch. The cloying scent of coppery blood mixed with the thicker smell of the dead bodies’ last emissions caught in his throat making him feel like he could taste it.
He shook his head sadly.
Something has gone horribly wrong here, he thought, and it’s just my luck that I was the one on duty when the call came in.
The call had been from the matron of the hospital, explaining that security had been breached and the patients were rioting. Sergeant Gormley had expected a couple of people needing stitches, but mostly, he had envisioned them just needing calming down and possibly sedating. He suspected that the matron had called him rather than risk getting her own hands dirty.
But this? This was something else entirely. It was a blood bath, and whoever was behind it was, he thought to himself, was evil to the core.
He turned as he heard footsteps approaching behind him.
“Oh my God,” said Officer Hemley. He stopped dead in the doorway crossing himself. “It’s…it’s a massacre.”
Sergeant Gormley nodded his head. He’d survived the war and he’d never seen carnage like this before.
“That it is son,” he said. “That it is.”
He knew he should start making his way around the bodies looking for some clue as to what had happened here, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.
“Oh my God Sarge,” Officer Hemley said again, stepping fully into the room this time.
“I know. It’s bad. But we have to…”
Officer Hemley cut him off. “No, Sarge, look. We’ve got a live one.”
Sergeant Gormley looked where Officer Hemley was pointing. Sure enough, a woman sat there in the corner, obscured by shadows. Her knees were pulled up to her chin and her arms were locked firmly around them. She stared vacantly ahead of herself, rocking back and forth. Silent tears fell from her chin and mixed with the blood that covered and surrounded her.
Sarah, Saturday September 2nd 2017
“Ok,” I say into the telephone, frantically scribbling away, trying to catch all of the important details but knowing I’ve missed a lot of what the woman is telling me.
I nod my head as I listen and scribble my notes.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my boyfriend, Josh, where he is sitting beside me on the couch.
He smiles in amusement at me nodding along to someone who can’t see me.
I can feel my ash blonde curls bouncing as I nod and I know I must look like an excitable poodle. I try to stop nodding, but I’m soon at it again.
One strand of hair falls away from the rest and comes to sit across my left eye. I reach up absently and brush it aside, making a mental note that I need a haircut and soon.
If any of this that I’m hearing on the phone turns out to be true, it will give me the perfect excuse to get my hair done I think with a grin.
I can feel Josh’s amusement as I wrestle with my mane and keep bobbing my head and making “uh huh” noises. I glance at him and stick my tongue out. He laughs and shakes his head.
Josh mutes the TV, interested to know who is on the phone now. My look of confusion mixed with excitement is probably making him itch to know what’s being said.
When the phone rang, I told him it would be a sales call and answered it in irritation, mostly to stop the bleating ring. I mean who calls someone on their house phone rather than their mobile?
I know Josh had been waiting for me to roll my eyes and slam the phone down. Now, he thinks it is something more than that. Something that could be good or could be bad. He’s not sure which and I must admit that I’m quite enjoying making him wait.
I try to make sure my tone of voice and expression give nothing away.
“Thank you,” I say, when the voice on the other end of the phone stops talking.
I smile as I hang up. As much as I want to keep Josh hanging on, I’m more interested to hear his opinion on the frankly strange phone call.
“Who was that?” Josh asks.
“I’m not really sure,” I answer honestly. “Someone called Gina Holloway. She said I’ve won a trip for two on the first ever Asylum Tour. I didn’t catch some of the details, but she’s going to send me out an information pack.”
“Why aren’t you jumping for joy?” Josh asks, grinning to himself.
I know why he’s grinning like that. He’s remembering my excitement the first time I ever won anything. Yes, it was only £2 on a scratch card, but it was still a win right?
“I don’t know really,” I admit.
I should be ecstatic, but something about the whole thing just feels, well, off somehow. I can’t put my finger on it, but something doesn’t quite add up.
I shrug again, frowning slightly. “It feels like some sort of a scam. I haven’t even entered a competition for any sort of tour. And why would they have our home phone number? I never give that out.”
“You mean you’ve entered so many competitions that you don’t remember that one specifically,” Josh teases me. “You spend half of your life glued to your laptop on comping sites. And obviously you have given them the house phone number. How else would they have it?”
I hit him playfully with a cushion, zeroing in on the part about spending so much of my life on comping sites and momentarily ignoring the rest.
“It’s only an hour or two a day,” I reason.
Josh raises an eyebrow and laughs. I can’t stop myself from joining in. It’s a lie and we both know it. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to comping sites, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m not.
“Ok,” I concede. “You win. I probably did enter and forgot. But what the hell is an asylum tour?”
“Screwed if I know,” Josh replies. “Google it.”
I reach over to the arm of the couch beside me and grab my phone. My thumbs dance over the screen and a big grin spreads across my face as I find what I’m looking for.
“The Asylum Tour is an interactive walk through tour of the heavily haunted Riley Asylum. Prepare to be scared,” I read aloud from the website, the glee I feel obvious in my voice.
It’s like my dream prize.
My eyes skim down over the text drinking in the details.
“Oh wow. It says here there was some sort of massacre and the place has been haunted ever since,” I add with a twinkle in my eye. “That place is going to be so haunted it’ll make that house from the Amityville Horror look like a playground for children.”
Josh laughs, infected by my excitement.
“Oh my God. I hope this is for real,” I say.
I don’t care anymore how Gina got my house phone number. I don’t care about anything except being able to go to this place.
Josh grins at me. “It sounds right up your street,” he says.
“It is,” I agree.
I go quiet as I continue to browse through the site pouring over the gruesome details. I’m sure it’s exaggerated to make the experience sound spookier, but I find that I don’t care as long as the experience scares me.
I can’t stop grinning as I look at the pictures of spooky looking empty corridors with shadows from unseen creatures dancing across them.
I feel my eyes widen in horrified excitement as I spot the pictures of the large, multi-person wards. The stained sheets hang in tatters from the iron framed beds. A man in white stands in the centre, his white doctor’s coat torn at the shoulder and a big hyper dermic syringe in his hand dripping liquid to the floor. Bloody handprints adorn the walls and another shadow dances on the wall behind the doctor.
“How do you not remember entering this competition?” Josh muses as he watches me looking at my phone in delight,
I shrug, distracted, not really listening to him.
“I have no idea,” I say.
I tear my eyes away from my screen long enough to really consider his words. I would remember entering this because I’d have ended up on this site at the time and I would have been this excited.
I’d have spent all day every day watching my mobile, praying for it to ring, or waiting for the email to land in my inbox. Because I know that I would never have given them the house phone number. I’d have been too scared I missed their call and lost out.
I am so excited about it all that I push my thoughts away. I have to try and not let myself get too excited about it. What can it be but a scam? But I just can’t do it. I give in and allow myself to cling to the hope that they found my details somehow and called me. It’s a scant hope, but it’s mine and I’m clinging to it.
“It opens on Halloween night,” I tell Josh. “It’s by invitation only so that must be the night for the winners.”
Why me? I wonder, as I read more details about the invite only opening night.
It is described as an exclusive event, to be experienced by a selection of guests who are to be the first people to experience the terror of the haunted asylum.
How do the operators of the tour know that this is my dream experience? And why do they care? I think.
Seriously, who is running this thing and how do they know of a nobody like me? I wonder. It’s not like I’m a z list celebrity or something and they want my name associated with it.
I bite my lower lip as doubts course through my mind.
I glance up at Josh, wondering if he shares my doubt but he’s already gone back to watching the TV.
I debate sharing my doubts with him, but I already know what his reaction will be.
He’ll tell me not to go if I’m worried about it. To just throw the information pack away if it ever materialises. I know I won’t do that, so there’s no point in us having an argument about it.
Although a small part of me is a little bit worried, the truth is, I am more intrigued.
And there’s one thing I know for sure. Whoever is behind the tour, and however they know who I am, I am going on that tour.
Jeannie, Wednesday October 18th 2017
I sit at my desk clacking my pen against my two front teeth. It’s a terrible habit, one I developed in school, but I just can’t shake it and I figure there’s worse habits to have. Like drinking, smoking and swearing like a sailor, all of which I also do.
The article I’m writing is driving me mad. I’m supposed to be an investigative journalist and writing about the latest book releases is so not my thing. It’s what you could call a slow news day.
I guess I should be happy that no one has been mugged, raped or murdered, but honestly, I’m not sure I am. I just can’t muster up the energy to write this stupid article, and my disinterest in it shows.
The hub bub of noise around me should be distracting me but it isn’t. I can tune it out easily enough when I’m gripped by an interesting story, but right now, I’m tuning in, just to try and hear something a bit more interesting than the plot of the latest chick lit release.
I mean who reads this stuff? Certainly not me. I like my books like I like my articles – full of blood and gore. An angle to get my teeth into I guess you could say.
A shrink would certainly have an opinion on what sort of person that makes me, but he’d be wrong. I’m not a psychopath, or a sociopath, or any kind of path. I just enjoy the thrill that comes from chasing down a story and the sense of pride I take when I get a big scoop.
If that makes me a bad person, what can I say? Sue me. No actually, don’t do that. I’m a journalist, not a fucking rock star and I need every penny I can get my hands on.
“Hey Jeannie, Mike wants to see you in his office,” one of the junior reporters tells me.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes Even a telling off will be more interesting than this mindless drivel. Not that I’ve done anything to warrant a telling off mind you. Even Mike, the editor in chief of The Daily Chronicle, knows this article he’s got me working on is bullshit.
If I am in trouble for something, I’d call writing this dumb article punishment enough.
“I’ve got something for you,” Mike says as I enter his office.
He points at the black leather and chrome seat before his desk. He lounges in his rather over the top computer chair. His whole office screams luxury but it’s mostly buried beneath piles of notes, old issues of the paper and who knows what else.
I discreetly move a stack of notebooks and sit down.
“What is it?” I ask, my voice dripping sarcasm. “Has someone wrote another book about some airhead who gives up everything to get her man?”
“Not exactly,” Mike says, the suggestion of a smirk on his otherwise expressionless face.
I feel the first tingle of excitement run through me. I don’t know what tips me off, maybe it’s the smirk, maybe it’s the fact he let my sarcasm go without so much as a sigh and an eye roll, or maybe it’s just a gut feeling, but something tells me whatever he has for me is big. Really big.
“Have you heard of the Asylum Tour?” he asks.
I shake my head.
“It’s a new attraction. Opening on Halloween night. Apparently, it’s in an old asylum that’s rumoured to be pretty haunted,” he goes on.
I try and fail to hide my disappointment.
“Don’t write it off just yet,” he says. “There’s more.”
“The building has stood empty for years. Some billionaire bought it with the intention of remaking it all and living in there. But he said it had a bad feeling to it, and he decided to turn it into a haunted attraction instead.”
“Publicity stunt,” I say, my interest getting further and further away by the second.
“That was my first thought, but something made me look a bit deeper into it. One of the juniors was looking into doing a piece on it as a new attraction, but there’s something off about the whole thing Jeannie. There’s something extremely fishy about the guy, and well, even I have to wonder if some of the stories about the old Riley place are true.”
“It’s in the Riley Asylum?” I ask.
He nods. “Yeah. You know it?”
“Yeah. And I want nothing to do with it,” I say.
He frowns a little but he ignores my comment.
“Anyway, this guy has set up a website, all the usual theatrics, but he is advertising opening night as by invite only. I had one of the junior reporters look into the guest list a bit, see if there would be anyone going worth interviewing. But it’s not celebrities. Not even influencers. It’s just people he seems to have picked at random. But they all have one thing in common.”
He pauses for effect.
“And what’s that?” I ask, not really interested.
“They all match the physical appearance of every victim of Mary Garbutt. She’s…”
I cut him off.
“I know who she is,” I say.
“Yes. She’s the fucker who killed my grandmother when my father was only two years old.”
Mike’s jaw drops open.
“She was one of the victims?” he says, incredulous.
“She was murdered the night of the rampage,” I say.
“Wow,” he breathes.
Not how I would have put it, but I get where he’s coming from.
“So now you know why I want no part in this. It’s just a tacky publicity stunt that is using the likes of my grandmother to make someone rich a bit richer,” I say as I go to stand up.
“Wait,” Mike says. “You know this could be big. I could see it in your eyes Jeannie. Just look into it and see what you think. You can do a write up on the history of the place and then you can do whatever you want with it. If you still think there’s no story after you’ve asked a few questions, you can write a piece condemning the whole thing as making money from other people’s suffering.”
That gets my attention. The only thing I like more than a twisted case that the police are screwing up is the chance to take someone like this billionaire down a peg or two.
“Really?” I say.
“Really,” he agrees. “And hey, it’s got to be better than what you’re working on now right?”
He’s got me there I think as I stand up.
He hands me a piece of paper with a list of names and addresses on it.
I give him a questioning look.
“The people who will be invited on the first tour,” he says.
I go to ask where he got the list, but I decide I don’t want to know. I leave his office.
I go back to my desk, my brain firing a thousand questions.
The massacre that occurred in the Riley Asylum the night my grandmother died is still talked about locally now. For all I am not in the least bit squeamish generally, there’s something about that night that gives me the creeps. There are so many unanswered questions, and to be honest, I’ve always thought they should stay that way.
But now I guess I’ll have to do some digging if I’m going to write this story. I pull up the paper’s archives and start looking for a good starting point.
It doesn’t take me long. There was a survivor. Someone who was young enough that she could still be alive today. It would be a great slant on the story to get an eye witness account, a real life account of what it felt like to be caught up in it all. She would give the piece condemning the attraction as making money out of people’s suffering the human touch.
Sally Mitchell. The matron at the time of the rampage was only twenty-two when it happened. She’d be eighty-five now, I think doing a quick calculation. But she could be alive. It’s barely even old these days.
Searching for her is going to be my starting point. No one wants to read a history of a building. But plenty of people will want to read an eye witness account of the carnage that took place that night. Even this long later. Sex sells, but death sells more.
I Google Sally Mitchell and get over a million results. I add Riley Asylum to the search and soon narrow it down. I scribble down Sally’s last known address and get ready to leave the office.
On my way out, I stop at the junior reporters and choose two of them at random.
“I need one of you to finish the new book release article and get it sent across to Mike,” I say. “And I need the other one to find me contact numbers for each of these people.”
I throw Mike’s list as them and rush out of the office, vaguely wondering who’ll get the short straw and have to research the list. Personally, I think that’s the better job, but a published article is a published article when you’re a junior.