Book 25 in the Short Sharp Shocks! is Kevin M. Folliard’s Candy Corn. Prior to publication (26th July) Dean and Kevin sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Kevin, can you tell your readers something about Candy Corn?
KEVIN M. FOLLIARD: I always write a Halloween horror story in October and a Christmas horror story in December. Candy Corn started out as a vague premise and quickly shaped into an image of the title character. The rest of the story kind of fell into place around her as I explored what she was doing and why she was doing it. For me, this story is mostly about how people cope with grief. [The character of] Blake deals with the loss of his father by diving into a fictional show that they shared. That works as a coping mechanism, but it unfortunately also makes him vulnerable to his captor. Mrs Cornfield, as the reader eventually learns, has a different kind of grief for failed expectations from her marriage and family. There’s a kind of desperation in how people cope with loss, and that comes alive for everyone involved in this literal desperate situation too. As a holiday story, it also interested me how Halloween reflected the desires of the characters, how they’re all in some way trying to ‘dress up’ or force alternate identities or alternate realities, and how sinking into those roles can work either for or against them.
DP: I definitely agree with what you say about the characters dealing with their grief (obviously in different ways) and believe you have been very successful in that. Did you face any particular challenges when writing the story?
KMF: First and foremost, Candy Corn ended up being a much longer story that I had set out to write, so that’s always kind of a blessing and a curse. It’s also essentially one long, sustained scene, much like a one-act, one-set theatrical play. While that’s true to the situation Blake is in, as an author, you also have to keep that interesting, so the reader isn’t getting tired of being trapped in a basement the whole time. As the story came together, I found myself taking inspiration from Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which has very strong characters and dialogue that help keep the audience riveted. I tried to think of the story a bit like a play, and ask myself, “Will a reader want to sit through this whole story in one sitting?”
DP: I love Albee’s work! I was lucky to see Patrick Stewart in Woolf – outstanding performance and Eddie Redmayne in The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? He was sublime...is any of Candy Corn based on events in your own life?
KMF: Fortunately, nothing quite like this has happened to me! However, I do identify with some aspects of the characters. I can appreciate Blake’s struggles with loss and being one of the ‘outsider’ kids. I think Blake is a creative kid who tends to dive into amateur film projects and his fan-boy obsessions, which I certainly did a lot of growing up. I can even relate to Mrs Cornfield’s shattered life expectations regarding marriage and family, but luckily, I haven’t gone down quite as dark a path as a result!
DP: For those readers who aren’t yet familiar with your work, would you say you have a specific writing style?
KMF: I think I tend to have more of a lean and direct style of prose, so at times I struggle with knowing when it’s time to slow down and paint a scene, a moment, or an action more vividly. Having test readers is a really important part of my process, because it gets me outside my head and shows me what readers see. I’m lucky to have two excellent writers groups in my community that helped a lot with this story in particular.
DP: That really helps some writers...which authors / books influenced you?
KMF: My favorite book is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I really admire Tolkien’s world-building and that book’s brisk, adventurous tone. I think Stephen King would probably be my ‘writer mentor.’ King’s ideas on writing really resonate with me. I like his analogy of a story as a “found artifact,” in which the writer is excavating and preserving it in words, but not quite in control of what it is.
DP: I’ve said in other interviews that (sadly) I’m not a MASSIVE fan of King but when I like a book I can’t get enough of it...The Dark Half is definitely my favourite...so, what’s next for you?
KMF: I have a number of projects in development. I’m currently seeking a home for a dark fantasy novella that’s my own twisted take on the Rapunzel ‘maiden in the tower’ story. I also have a sci-fi novel set in my New Pangea world, about a society of raiders who train carnivorous dinosaurs to attack other human settlements.
DP: They definitely sound intriguing, especially the Rapunzel novella – well up my street! With a number of projects on, would you say you suffer from writer’s block?
KMF: Definitely! Perhaps the hardest part about writing is actually forcing yourself to sit down and do it. I always tell people to take the Nike ‘Just Do It’ approach to writing. Nobody else is going to force you to write but you, and you have to accept that it’s almost never going to come out perfect.
DP: So you would outline before you start or just go for it?
KMF: Usually have a combined approach. Outlines can be very helpful, but for fiction writing, you don’t want to box yourself in too much. Part of the fun is exploring where the story can go, and where the characters might take you. For a longer story, I usually have a basic outline in my head, but I try to let it ebb, flow, and adapt. For example, I knew much of what was going to happen in Candy Corn, and I let myself brainstorm and outline chunks of the story, but I was not quite sure how it would end until I got there. The longer the story, the more it helps to have a road map, but you’ve got to let yourself explore surprises along the way.
DP: I think what you said about ‘boxing yourself in’ is so true...do you have a favourite theme or genre?
KMF: I really appreciate horror as a genre, as well as speculative fiction at large, because it lets us safely explore dangerous, terrifying, or bizarre situations or ideas, and then vicariously process the human behaviour and emotion that stem from them. I think for being considered ‘outlandish’ genres, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror have so many relevant insights about human nature, and a lot of people dismiss them as ‘not realistic.’ For me, it’s the ‘unusual’ that heightens the ‘real’ part. From Candy Corn, I learned quite a bit about the inner workings of a fog machine! But more importantly, it was a good chance to dive into the nature of grief and loss, which is a theme that comes up in a lot of my stories.
DP: Having recently worked with a fog machine I have also become somewhat of an expert on the inner workings. Okay, I’m a film producer, pitch me Candy Corn as a movie.
KMF: Lured into sociopathic Candy Cornfield’s Halloween dungeon, 13-year-old Blake must play her strange games and use his imagination to escape--before he becomes just another frozen head in her freezer.
DP: Yeap, I’d greenlight that! If you were writing a synopsis for a newspaper...how would that go?
KMF: On Halloween, 13-year-old outcast Blake is lured into the home of the sociopathic Candy Cornfield and her lobotomized husband Carl. Chained to the wall in the Cornfields' basement dungeon, Blake must act out the role of Candy’s ideal fantasy son, play her strange party games, and use his limited resources to regain his freedom--before he ends up like the frozen head in the freezer.
DP: And finally, can you tell us something surprising about you?
KMF: I really love to travel and recently completed my goal of visiting all fifty US states.
Well done Kevin, thanks for your time and all the best with Candy Corn!
If you would like to connect with Kevin direct:
Author Website: http://www.kevinfolliard.com/