Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Lori Titus

Victoria Gotti w/Joe Dolci photo Mafiessa10ab.jpg

Lori Titus is an accomplished horror writer who knows how to set you on edge.

Her use of prose is both psychological and challenging in its use of imagery. She is adept at using the trivial everyday incident to bring out the uncanny. She writes with a tight assured narrative voice.

She is also an editor for Wicked Nights Publishing and she runs her own radio show.

150x225 Lori has had a novella Lazarus and an anthology Green Water Lullaby published. And she has two more novellas set for release in September, 2011: The Moon Goddess and the long awaited Hailey’s Shadow.

It is evident she puts a lot of thought into her writing and delivers great prose.

She met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about transformation and pathology.

Scroll down for more links to Lori’s work.

Are uncles important to you in your life?

I would usually say no, but on second thought, the answer may be yes!  My pet cat, Maxie, is named after a great-great uncle who passed away when he was ninety-eight. And another, not so nice uncle made his way into one of my stories as a wishy-washy sibling.

Do you think narratives are a form of power and sibling rivalry is a form of identity sculpture and is Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ a great novel?

Beloved is one of the few books out there that is frightening to read because of the bare truths it reveals about humanity. Sibling rivalry is always an interesting topic- there is that saying about the hatred of things familiar. As we grow into adulthood I think that we often define ourselves by how we are similar (or not) to our siblings.

A well told narrative is always powerful. It allows us to feel things for others, to understand the world through someone else’s eyes, and experience discomfort in another person’s skin.

Do you think emancipation and equality are achievable within the political arena we inhabit and that they are as equal for the black American female as they are for the black American male?

Finding equality is always a struggle.

There have been many advances for African Americans, both male and female, particularly over the last ten years. That said, there is still unequal footing when it comes to access to decent primary and secondary education for black youth, much less higher education.

Black men don’t bear more discrimination than their female counterparts, but  the stereotypical roles that they are placed in are more destructive. Males are often categorized as offenders, criminals, a danger to society. Females are often seen as the jobless unwed mothers, welfare supporters.

These kinds of labels are destructive on a psychological level. No one should have to feel that they must defend their validity as a human being.

Who are your literary influences?

So many to name! Poe was my first literary influence. My sister used to read his stories to me when I was about seven years old, along with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and poetry by Edna St. Vincent Milay.

I remember reading Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It was the first short story I ever read, and it stuck with me. The story was so brutal and spare, visual and beautiful. I thought it was amazing that she could cram so much into such a little space. I remember thinking a good short story was like an effective magic spell.

Of course, I love King and Koontz, though I lean heavier towards the latter than the former. I love Alice Hoffman. She has a way with a turn of phrase that’s just lyrical. I love Tananarive Due for her ability to weave a story using common beliefs and turning them into something extraordinary.

Ovid in his ‘Metamorphoses’ describes chaos changed into harmony, animals turned into stone, men and women who become trees or stars. How do you think this is relevant to horror writing and the history of literature in general?

Not only is it relevant to horror fiction, but to our deepest fears.

Change lies at the root of many of our fears. Change into something that feels no emotion. Change into something that can no longer think or feel the way that a “normal” human being does.

The paralysis of humans or animals turned into inanimate objects is a projection of the fear of death.

At the core of all our favorite monsters lies the theme of metamorphosis. Every shambling zombie, greedy blood drinker, or vicious werewolf started off as something human, or at least, close to it.

The same can be said about tales of serial killers or delusional lunatics. We fear what we don’t understand. We also fear that line between being one of us, and becoming one of “them”.

Paul De Man in ‘Blindness And Insight’ said that ‘Literary “form” is the result of the dialectic interplay between the prefigurative structure of foreknowledge and the intent at totality of the interpretive process’. What do you make of his statement?

I take it to mean that as writers, we depend upon images and forms that are familiar to the reader in order to create the image that we want the reader to perceive.

For instance, I can describe to a reader a rose. Everyone knows what the flower looks like, is familiar with how a rose smells. The reader can visualize it easily in their mind. I am depending on the reader’s ability to conceptualize this simple thing.

Add to that, the scene where the roses are placed. Does a man bring them home to his wife after an argument? Does she take the roses without speaking? Does she prick her fingers on them as she holds the roses in her arms? All these subtle cues between the man and woman, and even the presence of the flowers, play into certain cultural meanings that are both implied and specific.

If we do our jobs as writers, the reader will experience the depth of a story on many levels. Symbolism, irony, paradox, and descriptive storytelling are all part of the tapestry that we work on. Each holds a significant part within a story, coexisting to make the whole that much stronger and richer an experience. Because of this,  true criticism recognizes all the parts that make up the whole.

Do you feel that your predilection for writing horror was formed by psychological tension from your family or something else?

This is something that I often wonder about myself. People ask me this a lot. Why horror? There are other things to write about.

A friend once asked me why I don’t write romance. Something “uplifting”. I frowned at her and gave her the simplest answer, despite all the words I have at the ready. No.

When I was a child, my mother encouraged me to write as a way to rid myself of nightmares. She’d used the same tactic with my sister and found it successful.

Now, here is the thing. I had the occasional nightmare, but I wasn’t plagued with them. So if I’d written in a journal for only those dreams, there wouldn’t be that many “stories” on paper.

I think the answer lies somewhere in the reaction that I received from my scary stories. I can remember writing all kinds of things, but it seemed the stories that got the best grades (as I started turning them in for extra credit) were the ones that had some sort of fear involved. Those early stories were often sci-fi or fantasy, traditional good vs. evil. When I started writing origin stories for monsters, that’s when I received the most encouragement.

Why do I continue to write stories with a creep factor? I don’t really know, but I can tell you that I’m always drawn to the darker side of things. I can start off with a romance about lovers on vacation, or a man bumping into his ex-girlfriend at a bookstore, but it doesn’t make my heart race until someone turns up dead or some sort of paranormal nasty makes its appearance.

Have you ever been haunted?

I have been haunted, but I think most people are.

We’re all subject to things from the past. Memories. Questions. There are always what-ifs. There are things that you wished you knew sooner, and some things that you wished never happened at all. People say they have no regrets, but I don’t believe them. People that have no regrets or questions about the trajectory of their life, or about humanity in general, aren’t very deep thinkers.

Now, if we are to talk about the other kind of haunting: the kind that involves an actual ghost, I’m of two minds about this. I don’t believe in things flying across rooms without explanation, evil entities doing their level best to kill you. Boo.

But, if you’re talking about being in an empty room and sensing a presence – or smelling a scent of perfume there that shouldn’t be there…if you’re talking about feeling like a loved one who isn’t here anymore might be near me at certain times? It wouldn’t be too hard for me to believe that.

Do you think going against nature is part of the creative process or a pathology and if so why?

An interesting question! I think that the creative process has its own pathology. Most creative people will tell you that their love for their work – art, writing, movies, photography, however their talent manifests – is like a disease, an addiction. Every disease has its own way of spreading, mutating, gathering resources and using them in their defense.

The creative mind is no different.

Sometimes it’s necessary to go against “nature” for an artist to achieve something through their art, regardless of the medium.

If you think about your favorite books or movies, usually there is something about them that you found different, or striking. Rarely do you find any lasting impression made by things that can be described as “ordinary” or “mainstream”.

If we look at “nature” as the  expected, the measured “norm”, then, any attempt at something special has to break that barrier.

When talking about “nature” as one’s own personal comfort zone, it’s necessary to challenge that frequently as well. It’s important to try new things and  stretch your boundaries. In writing, whatever passion you can bring to the world of your stories is passed on to the reader.

Horror writing has traditionally relied on monsters. Do you think mankind is the biggest monster of all and what do you find most horrifying about it?

Man’s capacity to be a monster is the scariest thing.

You don’t have to look beyond the morning news to see it, either, let alone discuss history. I am a firm believer that the creatures we use in horror are just a way to take a look at the human capacity for evil.

Zombies and ghosts embody our fear of death. Will we become a rotting, mindless thing, or a wandering spirit, tethered to earth by the baggage of our past?

Vampires? Your traditional vamp was all about greed and bloodlust. Vampires ala Rice were about sexuality and power. Meyers version are about denying the old lusts that other vampires usually enjoy.

Werewolves? Unbridled fury and homicidal intent.

Science fiction uses alien cultures and alternate realities to discuss the faults in our own society with an impartial eye. Conversely, horror is often the vehicle to explore our inner space, the ugly parts of human nature that we like to turn away from.

What makes man more frightening than any of these things? A human has a mind that allows for thought, a soul that should allow for empathy. And we manage to do horrible things to each other anyway.

Thank you Lori for giving an insightful and great interview.

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Lori’s links:

The Darkest of Lore’ blog

The Marradith Ryder series, a weekly web-serial on ‘Flashes in the Dark’

Flashes in the Dark Internet Radio Show

Flashes in the Dark Ezine

The anthology ‘Green Water Lullaby’ is available at Smashwords

Lori’s novella ‘Lazarus’ is available at Amazon.com

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25 Responses to Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Lori Titus

  1. I did enjoy that. Smashing writer.

  2. Lily Childs says:

    Fascinating interview. I’m always intrigued to discover what inspires other horror writers and feeds their imagination.

    Lori, your writing is so beautiful and articulate – a dark pleasure to read.

  3. AJ Hayes says:

    So, I jumped around in Amazon looking at Lori’s stuff. One thing whapped me up longside the head was the title to a review of Lazrus: “Nancy Drew meets Pet Sematary at the O.K. Corral.” Gotta hurry a little bit because I want to get back to Amazon with cash in fist, rabid to buy because anything with a review title like that? I’m IN! Especially after reading Lori’s responses to your questions. Especially question nine. “Truth must be truer than fiction” is a good quote and dictum (whoever said it first, Hemingway, Twain or Charley Sheen, doesn’t matter). I think Lori framed the perfect expression of that quote in her answer. Going against Nature is the guts and soul of fiction. Nature is, simply put, elemental. Pure. I guess the best way to say it is, Nature is its own dog and requires no judgment or approval. As an author the struggle is to draw a recognizable meaning to any of its facets. To put a worth or use to a thing that is either priceless or valueless or beyond any of those assignments. Ties in nicely with the analogy of the rose — and its thorn too. All’s I know is I’m out’ta here and trottin’ fast as I can over to the “Order Here” page at Amazon to satisfy (as another reviewer called it) needs of “the cowboy and the zombie in me.” Cool beans Lori. And once again, thanks Richard for bringing the lady to this place.

  4. Chris Rhatigan says:

    Smart stuff! Lori has obviously put a lot of thought into how to create effective horror and why readers connect with this genre.

  5. Lori Titus says:

    Thanks so much, Paul, Lily, AJ and Chris!

  6. Sounds like a writer to watch. It used to be that African American writers were very narrowly limited in the topics they could write about. I’m glad to see this changing and very glad to see that Lori is having some success in horror, a great field if you ask me.

  7. Bought a book today on this. Lori is a doll and an inspiration for the rest of us.

  8. Thanks for this interview, Lori. The statements you make about humanity are are very good points, and it’s great to hear your views on writing prose.
    Where is the empathy, indeed, and does man even truly possess it or is it just an illusion? What a thing to contemplate. This is a thought-provoking interview for sure.

  9. Laurie Smith says:

    Mr. Wag I enjoyed your insightful interview into the mind of a horror author, Lori Titus. She is a modern day Stephen King in her captivating and suspenseful writing style. I’m anxiously awaiting her next book release.

  10. jim bronyaur says:

    (1) Loris is freaking awesome. (2) Lazarus is freaking awesome.

    🙂

    If you haven’t read Lazarus, shame on you!

  11. AJ Hayes says:

    Well hell! The proper quote, of course, is “Fiction must be truer than truth.” Idiot me strikes again! Grumble.

  12. This was such a provocative interview. Best wishes, Lori, with all your publications. I was not read to as a child and had a lot of catching up to do. I loved that you credit your mom and older sister for reading to you. That your sister exposed you at seven to Poe, Grimm, and St. Vincent Milay is fantastic. This makes me happy.

    Richard, as always, you ask the best questions, which allow your subjects to shine.

  13. Angel Zapata says:

    Damn good questions…uncle influences…who would have thought? Lori, your answers gave me so much to think about and apply to my own life and writing. I have Lazarus in my possession. I hope to be eating it up real soon. As always, I wish you the best. You’re well on your way.

  14. A good writer and an excellent interviewer! The Godwin is never satisfied asking the same timeworn questions. His rich background allows him to delve deeply and go where most angels fear to tread! Way to go, Lori and Richard.

  15. Lori is a well established force and Richard yet again wields the question with aplomb..

  16. richardgodwin says:

    Thank you Lori for giving a perceptive and broad interview.

  17. Joyce Juzwik says:

    Narrative ‘allows us to feel things for others, to understand the world through someone else’s eyes, and experience discomfort in another person’s skin’. Perfectly said.

    You’re right on the money about the root of our fears. It is the process of change that we cannot comprehend. How could somebody ‘like me’ become possessed by a demonic spirit? or How could somebody ‘like me’ murder 13 people? It’s the ‘like me’ thing as you said. Assuming we all begin the same, what made them become them? We don’t know, so it’s frightening. Is there the possibility that we could become one of them too? We don’t know that either and THAT’S terrifying. Whoa, I love horror, and you certainly know how to create it at its darkest. I wish you continued success, and Richard, thanks for another wonderful peek inside the mind of a writer.

  18. Hi Lori, This is the most indepth interview I’ve read with you and how intriguing it is! I think what gets me the most is how gentle and humble you are. Your respect and love for humanity. So really in truly, you creep up on us with this plethora of knowledge you have of suspense and horror tactics and scare the living daylights out of a person. Richard asked some fascinating questions and you zinged some equally fascinating answers back at him. I honestly have to say this is one of my favorite Chin Wags. As Ang put it, you’ve given us lots to think about. I can’t help but mention your lyrical voice in your replies to the questions and mention to would be readers who are considering your books that your fictional writing style is just as beautiful and alluring (AJ will love your book!). I believe that you will have thousands and thousands of fans one day, Lori.

    Thanks you two.

  19. Erin Cole says:

    I loved Lori’s answers about fear, metamorphosis, and people when she stated this: “Man’s capacity to be a monster is the scariest thing.” I think that’s it exactly, our fear to actually become what it is we fear the most. Excellent.
    I’ve read Lori’s Lazarus, a great zombie tale in western era, and I especially look forward to reading Hailey’s Shadow.
    Great interview, Lori and Richard. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Lori Titus says:

    I am so humbled by all the great comments here. Thanks so much for reading this interview and my work!

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