Writers Workshop of Horror: interview with editor Michael Knost

In the early years of my editing and writing adventures, I spent a fair amount of coin on books about writing. I had high hopes of learning the secret handshake required of becoming a successful writer. In general, the books were a waste of time and money, but at least my coin helped put bread on the table for some starving writer, right?

Then, an odd thing happened. I stumbled upon a handful of books about writing that were actually informative and helpful. Two of these come from a pair of the speculative fiction genre’s most successful authors: Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft) and Orson Scott Card (How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). Both were entertaining and provided a framework that allowed me to further enhance my skills.

Writers Workshop of Horror edited by Michael Knost hopes to provide the same type of fun, scholarly content from successful genre authors such as Clive Barker and Brian Keene. The book comes out in August from Woodland Press and is currently available via pre-order. A busy editor and writer, I was pleased to steal a few minutes of Michael’s time for this interview.

Jason Sizemore: What sets Writers Workshop of Horror apart from the other “how-to-write” books currently on the shelves?

Michael Knost: Well, Writers Workshop of Horror specifically focuses on the craft of writing. There is nothing in this book about landing a three-book deal with a major publishing house, finding an agent, applying marketing tips, or anything else that is outside the scope of the craft. Secondly, this book is genre specific to horror and dark fiction. Now the advice here will certainly apply to any writer regardless of the genre he or she chooses, but this book specializes in horror, dread, fear, and the darker sides of the imagination. Remember, these are all elements every writer (regardless of genre) needs in his or her craft toolbox.

JS: What do you hope a reader takes away with them after finishing Writers Workshop of Horror?

MK: I hope they take away a renewed spirit in their writing. But I also hope they see that it’s hard work and that they have to be thinking about it from every angle.

JS: You wrangled a large number of horror legends to share their collective writing wisdom (Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Deborah LeBlanc, Brian Keene…). Was there any sort of “old-hand” knowledge gained from working with these authors that you can share?

MK: I think each of them give us a perspective of what experience has taught them. And experience could be another word for perseverance. Not quitting. They offer us advice, but also the hard facts of reality. It’s not a hobby to them, and never was—even when they were doing it as a hobby. They have the same mindset as my grandfather: stop talking about doing something and do it.

JS: Tell us a bit about how the project came together?

MK: I wanted to do this for years and finally decided to pitch it to the publisher. He was skeptical at first because they had never done anything like it in the past and was worried about not being able to market or distribute it properly. But he decided to give it a shot and I’m hoping he’ll be glad he did.

My thoughts of the project were to invite writers to contribute something in a subject I chose for them. I know that sounds restrictive, but I wanted to see what Gary Braunbeck had to say about adding emotionalism to stories because Gary Braunbeck has a knack for bringing tremendous emotion to his writing. So this was sort of a project where I looked at subjects I wanted to cover and invited the perfect person to show us how they do it.

JS: Why the focus on horror? Science fiction and fantasy writers need guidance too!

MK: The principles in Writers Workshop of Horror transcend genres, but the aspects I wanted to explore were those in the dark regions of our minds. I wanted to look at some of the small nuances that you will only find in writing horror or dark fiction.

However, having said that, I would love to do a Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and a Writers Workshop of Fantasy.

JS: You have a favorite line or quote from the book?

MK: Michael Arnzen’s piece is about scene and structure in horror fiction, and had this to say:

It is not simply the case that horror tears the sheet off the body of fear like some magician yanking a tablecloth away from a table and leaving behind the candelabra. Though it often can and often does revel in the thrilling surprise and disturbing shock of the suddenly revealed, it is more often the case that horror’s power lies in seduction: it seduces us into looking at things that we otherwise wish would remain enshrouded in mystery (the unknown). It probes into the places where society tells us we should not go (the taboo). Our fear is balanced against the pleasure inherent to rebelling against the rules; we thrill at doing something our parents and priests and pundits tell us we should not do. We know we shouldn’t, but we “go there” anyway.

JS: Tell us a bit about you.

MK: I have written in a few genres for years but wanted to make a change in writing the things I love: speculative fiction. I grew up reading Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, and J. R. R. Tolkien, and always wanted to focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

I’ve published dozens of short stories and books. I served as editor for the Legends of the Mountain State (Woodland Press) series and a few other anthologies that are in the early stages. I write a column for Shroud Magazine and I’m working on my latest novel, To the Place I Belong, which will be out later this year.

You can visit me online at www.MichaelKnost.com.

JS: Okay, so after a writer reads Writers Workshop of Horror, they’ll have the knowledge to easily land a book deal with Tor, right?

MK: Absolutely! (Laughs) But we must keep in mind the sage words of Anton Chekhov: “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”

Thank you, Michael, for the interview.

Writers Workshop of Horror comes out August 1st, 2009, from Woodland Press and is currently available for pre-order.

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