Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Interview with Tara Fox Hall author of Just Shadows. (A collection of short horror stories.)

Over at Good Book Alert, we gained a new reviewer. Her collection of short stories were recently published and she is here today to tell us more about it.


From the murky depths of a summer lake to the echoing halls of an insane asylum, evil lies in wait for victims. Innocents might escape by a hair’s breath, if they’re lucky. Then again, they might not. The shadows are waiting. Dare you step into the darkness and be judged?

There are 17 stories, some are flash fiction. Here is a little about some of the longer ones.

Just Shadows: A hunter comes face to face with a guardian of the woods called the Husterman.

Night Cry: A monster stalks the teen ward of an insane asylum.

Brothers: A lighthearted tale about two brothers healing their differences

Dark Force: A tale of a woman discovering her new house holds a menace in the cellar.

Cherie: A vampire uses a little girl as bait, but not all is what it seems in their arrangement.

Welcome to The Perch, Tara, it's great to have you here. What do you enjoy most about writing in the horror genre?

The simplicity of it, mostly. Fear is the easiest emotion to get readers to feel; the easiest to tap into, at least for me. But there is a challenge there, too, in that not everyone fears the same things. Everyone may be leery of the closet monster in his various forms, but not everyone is afraid of a huge dust bunny, for example. The perceived threat isn't there. And if you write a story about a killer dust bunny, you have to try to be that much more convincing, to make people fear your creation. Horror/suspense is fun for me to write. It's what I write when I need a break from complex plots and lengthy works. Also though, I'd like to add that there is a large market for horror stories, specifically flash fiction. I can usually place stories I write without too much angst, which is why I turned to horror when I could not originally place my paranormal works (see Starting Small by Tara Fox Hall online).

What is your favorite story from this collection and why?

I like them all, but I have to say that the title story. Just Shadows, is my favorite. I saw some eyes reflected in my flashlight beam while out walking with my dogs one dusk evening. I think it was a deer, but it just stood where it was, too deep in the trees to see more than the eyes. Then I thought it might be a bear. I thought to myself what the hell am I going to do if it comes rushing towards me instead of just looking at me?And the inspiration for the story was born :) I also did it as a sort of tribute. I had an Aunt Margie when I was young who warned me of the Husterman, a Slovak bogeyman that supposedly waited outside the house to snatch me up if I wandered outside at night (I am Slovak on my maternal grandmother's side of the family). I also have an Aunt Sylvia (Great Aunt, actually) who would love to have the power to really curse people. :)

When was the first time you considered yourself to be a writer?

When I saw myself on Amazon, I considered myself an author. But I considered myself a writer from the beginning of my writing career, when I was publishing short articles in Catnip Blossoms! I used to get some fan mail there; people telling me they had enjoyed my stories. That is probably the most rewarding part of being a writer; having someone read your work and contacting you to tell you that they enjoyed it.

What advice would you give other aspiring horror writers? 

 Really love to write, because you’re going to have to go through a lot of pain for your work to see it in print, and even more for it to be successful, unless you are incredibly lucky. Some authors send out a few queries to agents and get picked up immediately. A big house publishes them, and they go on a book tour, and then, like magic, their book is #1. Don’t count on that happening.That was the bad news. The good news is there are many places online looking for short stories to publish. There are many small presses that will be eager to look over your work. If writing is in your soul, go for it! If you don’t give up, and keep trying to hone your craft, you will be a success. Just research the places you submit to before sending your work. One magazine's desired version of horror story is not going to be what is wanted at all places accepting stories.

Out of all these stories, who is your favorite character and why? 

 My favorite character is the vampire James of the short story Cherie. I plan on giving him a bigger role in an upcoming longer vampire work someday. There is a lot of evil there mixed with charm that I want to make good use of.

I enjoy my vampires and the world I created for them most of my works. All the vampire and werecreature works are from the same world, be they romance, erotic, horror or suspense. You will see characters show up again in other stories and other genres. You've heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon? Everything fits together, from State of Grace to Cherie to Night Cry to Lash to other upcoming stories, no matter when or where they were published. The central work is the Promise Me series, and the character that is the "Kevin Bacon" tying them all together is the sometimes villain/sometimes hero, vampire Devlin Dalcon.

As a writer, what is your greatest fear? 

 That no one will read my work, publishers will dump me, and I'll be blogging to myself with no followers. That's enough for a horror story (shiver).

Which of these stories do you feel is the most scary and why?

The Hunt. It was my first story published, back in May 2011 at Deadman's Tome. I still remember the nightmare that prompted the story. It scared the hell out of me. I remember sitting, shivering next to the small fire in that adobe structure with none of the sides closed, looking out into pitch blackness. I couldn't face all the openings at once, and I knew somehow that the killer, Old Hunter, was going to come back as soon as I slept. And in the dream I slept and woke up again and there he was, working on that scalp. I tried to pass on that fear to the reader, who wouldn't have my memories of the dream to draw from.

Do you have any special methods for making your readers squirm with fear? 

 I don't write about something unless I can imagine it and it scares me. Sometimes the idea comes frfom a nightmare, like 99% of the stories in Just Shadows. Then I try to take it as far as it will go, pushing the limits until the scenario is terrifying. But I also like to tell stories that are taut with suspense, where I can keep the reader guessing, hoping for a good ending yet waiting moment by moment for the ax to descend. In life, usually what you most fear about a tense situation isn't what happens. Instead, something equally terrible happens, something you never thought possible. I like to bring that into my stories.

Thanks for the interview Tara. It's been interesting learning about your latest release.

Excerpt from the title story:

Dawn was just breaking, fog rising off the small stream in misty tendrils that wafted through the forest glade The forest was dark and deep, still mostly silent, inky blackness. From time to time, rustling sounds issued from thickets, but it was the small rustling of rabbits and grouse, not the prey most men were after today. Suddenly, there came a sharp shriek of a scream owl, startling the man crouched waiting in the tree stand high above. 

“They’re just shadows,” Lenny said under his breath to himself, shifting his weight. “How long you been huntin’ these woods? You know better.”

He looked down the barrel, checking the sight one more time. You couldn’t be too careful. It was easy to knock the sight off getting up into the tree stand. God knew, he wasn’t getting any younger. Still, for a man his age, Lenny was pretty limber. Smiling, he settled back, scanning the forest floor. The first day of hunting season was the best day of his year.


“Fucking amateurs,” Lenny said angrily hours later. “Assholes!”

The morning had been beautiful, the day creeping in quickly, illuminating the shadows. Like clockwork, a beautiful buck had come right to the stream to drink. Lenny had been squeezing the trigger when a rifle crack had shattered the moment, the buck bolting out of his sights, its flank bloodied. Lenny had cursed, then climbed down the wooden ladder quickly. The crackling of dead limbs coming his way was testament that the stupid ass who’d shot his buck was giving chase. Lenny reached the forest floor in time to stop the young punk in his tracks

“What are you, an idiot?” he’s shouted at the boy. “You can’t use a rifle on deer.”

“Who’s going to stop me, old man?” the punk said with a sneer. “There’s no DEC anywhere around here today. They’re all up there on the state land. It’s party time—”

“You get out of here before I drill your ass where you stand,” Lenny growled harshly. “This is my land. I pay the taxes on it, not you. Get out of here now.”

The punk glared back, but when Lenny’s eyes remained hard and unwavering, the punk’s gaze slid away, then lowered. “I know I hit the animal. I need to track it—”

"You winged him, is all,” Lenny interrupted, gripping his shotgun. “He’ll be fine. But you won’t be if you don’t shut up and get gone. Now.”

The kid turned and walked away, muttering under his breath. Lenny watched him until the boy was gone, then let his shoulders slump in relief. You could never tell these days if a kid was going to snap and start shooting, or if he’d been taught to respect his elders. A lot of men Lenny’s age had found the former true in recent years. It was a relief he’d been right this time.

But that hadn’t been the worst part; that had come later. Lenny had climbed back up into the stand, had lunch, then waited the rest of the afternoon without seeing a goddamned thing. Just as dark was falling, another deer came up, again a buck. Trailing him was a doe. Lenny got into position, and then suddenly, the bark of a dog shattered the stillness, making the two deer turn as one and flee. 

Lenny cursed again. That damn neighbor of his, out walking her dogs. Didn’t she know today was the first day of hunting season? Yes, she did—there was her bright orange hat and vest. Christ, she even had orange vests on the dogs. He stayed silent, waiting for her to pass.

He’d waited until the shadows were thick, hoping for another chance, but no deer had come. Pissed off and dejected, Lenny began to reluctantly climb down. This was his first opening day in years that he had noting to show for his efforts. Now dusk was closing on full dark. Damn it, I should have left earlier…

There was a snap as the ladder rung he was holding onto gave way. The ground rushed up to meet him before he could yell.


Blinking his eyes, Lenny sat up, trying to ignore his throbbing head. Damn ladder. He was lucky the gun hadn’t gone off; he’d forgotten to safety it before starting to descend the ladder. At least there was a shiver of moon, just enough to illuminate the woods around him weakly. But the thickets and bushes were black as pitch, just shadows with no form.

He hadn’t fallen far, but he’d cracked his head good. The rest of him was just fine. With a groan, he got to his feet, feeling in his pockets for a flashlight. His wife Hera would be worried about him. She’d been telling him for years to get himself one of those new cell phones, complaining that when he was out hunting she had no way to contact him. He hadn’t listened, of course. The last thing he wanted was to have his hunting disturbed. Now she was going to bend his ear every chance she got, after hearing about this. Grumbling, he clicked the safety on, switched on the flashlight, and began walking slowly back to where his truck was parked.

There was a rustling in the thicket ahead. Lenny turned, curious. Maybe it was a deer? Wouldn’t that be funny, he thought sarcastically; a deer coming in so close now, when it was too late to shoot. He aimed his flashlight beam into the thicket, but the weak light wouldn’t penetrate the shadows. All it did was illuminate two eyes shining back at him.

There was a deer in there staring at him. Had to be. Well, there was no point in scaring it. Lenny began to back away slowly.

The eyes held on him, motionless, then very slowly rose in the shadow, until they were level with his height. Then they kept rising up, until they were near eight feet in the air. Again they held still, staring back at him.

Lenny’s skin crawled as he stared back, frozen in his tracks. Even a deer rearing on its hind legs wouldn’t be that tall. This had to be a bear, and the biggest goddamn one he’d ever seen.

The eyes moved in the darkness toward him, leaves rustling with each deliberate footstep.

A bear wouldn’t do that, Lenny thought, backing away. A bear couldn’t walk that far on its hind legs.

The eyes suddenly darted forward, twigs and branches in the thing’s path snapping. Lenny turned and ran, the fast crackling of broken branches coming right behind him.

With every step, he expected to be clubbed by a huge paw, or hear an enraged roar. Instead, the crackling noises just kept pace right behind him. Terrified, he refused to turn, unwilling to face those tall eyes again. But as his breathing turned ragged and his strength failed, Lenny knew he had to. He’d never outrun the thing. He had only one shot, and he’d better make it a hell of a good one.

Panting, Lenny swung around to face the thing, bringing the gun barrel up level as he clicked off the safety. He gaped, then lowered the weapon. The eyes were gone.

He stood still for a moment, fighting to control his breathing, to hear any close noises over the sound of his own racing heart. 

There was the hoot of an owl. Nothing else broke the silent night.

Lenny retreated to his car, nervously scanning his surroundings all the way, his gun at the ready. He was badly startled by a raccoon en route, and just managed not to pull the trigger in reflex. When Lenny reached the edge of the woods and his car, he climbed in and shut the door as fast as he could, breathing a huge sigh of relief as he hit the lock button.

God, what had that thing been? Did I imagine seeing it? Maybe the eyes being that tall had been a trick of the light, a raccoon or some other animal climbing up a tree…

He could figure that out later. All he wanted to do was go home.

Lenny started the car, relieved all over again when the engine turned over easily. He put it in gear, then glanced up, letting out an instant yell.

There in his headlights was the punk from this morning. He was staring at Lenny with dead eyes. Part of his neck was missing, blackish dried blood and tissue clumped at the raw edges of the gaping wound.

This couldn’t be happening!

The kid smiled, baring human teeth coated with more of that blackish-red blood. Then he began to raise the gun still held in his hands.


Tara Fox Hall’s writing credits include nonfiction, horror, suspense, erotica, and contemporary and historical paranormal romance. She also coauthored the essay “The Allure of the Serial Killer,” published in Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). Her first e-novella, Surrender to Me, was published in September 2011. Her first full-length novel, Lash, will publish in April 2012. She divides her free time unequally between writing novels and short stories, chainsawing firewood, caring for stray animals, sewing cat and dog beds for donation to animal shelters, and target practice. Her most recent publication is the anthology of short suspense and horror stories, Just Shadows.

Buy Links:

Bradley Publishing

Amazon Kindle

Author Links:




Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You're right, it's not what really happens but what we imagine might happen that is scary.
And killer dust bunnies might be more akin to killer tomatoes.
Good interview, ladies!

Rusty Webb said...

Thanks for the interview. It's always a learning experience to learn other folk's take on being a writer.

Funny for me, I do kinda like horror as genre, but hate horror movies. They seem to involve entirely different areas of my brain.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I'm intrigued. I like dark stuff and the insanity, and dark settings are pulling me to examine this collection of short stories more closely. Plus I love that one of the writers is not afraid to drop the f-bomb.

Tara Fox Hall said...

Thank you for your comment, Alex :) I remember Attack of the Killer Tomatoes :)

Tara Fox Hall said...

Thank you for the comment, Rusty. That's interesting that you don't like horror movies, but do enjoy reading horror. I may have to work that into an upcoming story! :)

Tara Fox Hall said...

Hi Michael. I base a lot of my male characters' dialogue on the men I work with at the metal fabrication shop. They prefer the f-bomb over most other swear words. Myself, I am inclined to agree, especially when angry. Thank you for the compliments. :)