13 Questions with Alistair Cross

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Alistair Cross-BWIt’s been a while since I had a 13 Questions segment, but today we have author Alistair Cross in the hot seat. Since his first publication with Damnation Books in 2012, Alistair has authored the successful serial novel, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, as well as the Amazon Best Seller, The Cliffhouse Haunting with international bestselling author, Tamara Thorne.

Together, they host the popular Horror, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal themed radio show, Thorne & Cross Haunted Nights LIVE!, which has included such guests as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro of the Saint-Germain vampire series, Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and basis of the HBO series, True Blood, Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter novels that inspired the hit television series, Jay Bonansinga of the Walking Dead series, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels, and New York Times bestsellers Christopher Rice, Jonathan Maberry, and Christopher Moore.

You can visit Alistair Cross’ website at www.alistaircross.com.

1. What drives you to write?

An irrepressible, insurmountable, burning need to give expression to the stories and characters that have existed in my imagination as far back as I can remember.

2. What attracted you to writing horror?

I discovered the horror genre at about eight years old and was promptly captivated by its immediacy, its drama, and its command of the audience’s emotions.

3. Who are your favourite horror writers?

Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne DuMaurier, Ira Levin, Richard Laymon, Tamara Thorne, and Oscar Wilde.

4. Which horror novels do you think every horror fan should read?

Dracula by Bram Stoker, It by Stephen King, Hell House by Richard Matheson, Violin by Anne Rice, and plenty of true crime because that’s where the real horror comes from.

5. Ebooks or paperback?

It doesn’t make much difference to me at this point, although I admit having avoided ebooks for a long time. I’ve since realized it’s the story, not the delivery of the story, that matters to me. Kindle, paper, or computer screen. It’s all the same to me. If a story is good enough, I’ll read it off the stall of a public restroom.

6. What would make you pick up a novel by a new author?

The cover. That’s always what gets me to pick it up. Then I read the back, and then, as the final decision maker, I read the first paragraph of the first page.

7. Who is your favourite fictional character?

I have a few! Madame DeFarge from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Renfield in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Margaret White in Stephen King’s Carrie. I’m also fond of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. He’s a bit of a dick, but I can relate.

8. Do you plot your stories or does it just unfold before your eyes?Final CC Book Cover

My process lies somewhere between pantsing and plotting. I get to know my characters before I start. I try to find the beginning, middle, and a few possible endings, then I just start writing and let the story tell itself.

9. Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn’t plan?

Absolutely. Intensive plotting has proven to be an exercise in futility for me as my characters rarely follow the directions I’ve given them. But this is where 90% of the magic comes from. I like the surprises and have learned to trust the characters. I don’t know if this is the case for all writers but I’m better off letting the characters express themselves on their own terms, so long as they don’t wander too far from the plot.

In my latest release, The Crimson Corset, the character of Gretchen VanTreese was originally cast as a throw-away – her sole purpose being to demonstrate the ways in which my vampires could meet their ends. But she took over, re-shaped the story, and made it all about her … which turned out to be a good thing. If I’d insisted she remain in place, I would have ended up with a much weaker story.

10. Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?

I don’t need silence but other words trip me up when I’m writing. Instrumental music is okay, but I don’t want to listen to someone singing or talking.

11. Do you do a lot of research for your stories?

Yes. Research is vital and I like to write pretty far outside of the familiar. I believe you should write what you know, but more importantly, I think you should KNOW what you write. Which requires lots of research.

12. Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook. Asking me to say something in 240 characters or less is just asking for trouble.

13. What really pisses you off about writing? (feel free to really vent here)

The thing that really pisses me off about writing is how you can spend so much time trying to say something just right … then in edits, after you’ve lost those hours of agonizing over the perfect phrasing, the very simple solution jumps out at you – and a second a half later, it’s fixed. So … overthinking. That’s what pisses me off about the process. Simplicity is power. I forget that regularly.

Blurb by Jay Bonansinga for CC
Alistair’s new release is the Crimson Corset. Presented in the form of contemporary vampire literature, The Crimson Corset is a representation of human descent, the power of influence, the corruption of greed, and the lust for domination. It is an illustration of the human will and a testament to the strength of family ties.
Welcome to Crimson Cove

Sheltered by ancient redwoods, overlooking the California coast, the cozy village of Crimson Cove has it all: sophisticated retreats, fine dining, and a notorious nightclub, The Crimson Corset. It seems like a perfect place to relax and get close to nature. But not everything in Crimson Cove is natural.

When Cade Colter moves to town, he expects it to be peaceful to the point of boredom. But he quickly learns that after the sun sets and the fog rolls in, the little tourist town takes on a whole new kind of life – and death.

Darkness at the Edge of Town

Renowned for its wild parties and history of debauchery, The Crimson Corset looms on the edge of town, inviting patrons to sate their most depraved desires and slake their darkest thirsts. Proprietor Gretchen VanTreese has waited centuries to annihilate the Old World vampires on the other side of town and create a new race – a race that she alone will rule. When she realizes Cade Colter has the key that will unlock her plan, she begins laying an elaborate trap that will put everyone around him in mortal danger.

Blood Wars

The streets are running red with blood, and as violence and murder ravage the night, Cade must face the darkest forces inside himself, perhaps even abandon his own humanity, in order to protect what he loves.

Author Links:
Website: http://alistaircross.com
Twitter: @crossalistair
Blog: http://alistaircross.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlistairCoss
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/crossalistair
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/jsascribes
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Alistair-Cross/e/B00N446AZS/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1417836165&sr=1-2
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/alistaircross/


Bloggers Social Evening

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

It’s official, I’ll be on a panel on the 5th of September discussing blogging at Exclusive books in Dainfern, Johannesburg. Lood Du Plessis will be trying to keep myself, Monique Snyman, and Monique Bernic on topic. He’ll have his hands full, although I think he’ll also be the one leading us into temptation. It’s going to be fun!

Bloggers social flyer

So if you’re going to be in the area and are interested in hearing what we have to say please RSVP so the organisers can make sure that they have enough wine. Hey! Having enough wine is important.


Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Last time we chatted about Marketing and Publicity. For the final post is this series here is a short list of resources that you might find handy, magazines that accept short fiction submissions as well as a few small publishers that focus on horror fiction. This is a basic list that you can expand on. It’s just to get you started.

Associations and helpful websites:

Short Story Markets:

Game writing markets:

Freelance Editors:


Marketing and Publicity Advice sites:

Review Sites:

Miss Congeniality: South African fiction

Joan De La Haye:

Sad but true!

Originally posted on Calling Through The Fog:

top pic

Authors’ incomes collapse to ‘abject’ levels.

That’s what the headline on The Guardian said, and I was frantic to know more. Which authors? Was it me? Were my annual royalty cheques of R250 about to plunge to R50? Less?

Usually I read like a millenial, which is to say I base my world view on the first three words of headlines from Buzzfeed articles on Twitter. But this time I read on.

Many professional authors in the United Kingdom, I discovered, were seeing their royalties plunge. Some who had earned their living from writing books were facing the prospect of – dear reader, are you sitting down? – not being able to write fiction as a full-time occupation.

Mal Peet, a celebrated writer of novels for children, told The Guardian that his direct income from sales had become “literally abject”. His royalty cheque for the last months of 2013…

View original 3,835 more words

Marketing and Publicity

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Last week we chatted about Getting Published, today we’ll be discussing Marketing and Publicity.

‘Never respond to a bad review in public. You only make yourself look an idiot and people think you’re unprofessional. If you don’t like the review – suck it up. The reviewer is entitled to their opinion and you can’t please everyone so just get over yourself.’Sam Stone, author of Demon Dance.   

You’ve finished writing your book, found a publisher and it’s about to be released. All the hard work is finally done, right? Wrong!

The real work has only just begun. All the years you spent writing, editing, and re-editing were only preparation for what you’re going to have to do now.

There are many ways to promote yourself and your writing, it’s just a case of figuring out which ones work for you. But if you want your book to sell, you’re going to have to put yourself out there. People are not just going to stumble across your book, you’re going to have to make sure you’re easy to find. Marketing your book is not an overnight process. Some people will say that there’s only a short window of opportunity to market your fiction novel, but that’s rubbish. You should continue marketing your book for as long as it’s in print or in e-format.

Your own website:

Having a website is a great way to introduce yourself to readers and the world at large. Whenever I find out about a new author, the first thing I do is Google them, check out their website, have a look at what they’ve written, and only then consider buying their books. You should have a bio page, a page listing what you’ve written and where they can buy it, and a contact page. Have a look at other author’s websites. Having a website that looks professional is important. Your website is the first impression you give a potential reader. If it looks like it was put together by someone who didn’t know what they were doing, they probably won’t have a very high opinion of you or your books and won’t bother to buy your book. But if it looks good, they may just hit that buy button. Also make sure the website loads quickly. People are impatient. If it takes too long to load, they’ll simply move onto another writer’s website.


Having a blog is probably more important than having a website. A website is static, whereas a blog is interactive. Blogs are also free! I prefer the WordPress platform because you can set it up to look like a website. You can use your blog to showcase your writing far better than on a website. Only drawback is that you have to blog regularly. When building a following for your blog you should blog at least once a week. Have a link to your blog on your email signature. You want to point potential readers to your blog or website every chance you get. Post links to your latest blog posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Social Networking:

Being on social networks has become one of the most important weapons for any author to have in their marketing arsenal. There are so many to choose from. There’s Google +, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and way too many others to mention. But the fact is you don’t have enough time in the day to spend on every single network there is. If you did there wouldn’t be any time left to write. And as a writer, writing is what you’re supposed to do. So I would suggest you pick two or three and commit to those. I prefer Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I find them far easier to use and far more useful than the others.

  • Facebook:

Over the years Facebook has become the main social network. If you’re not on there, then you probably prefer living under a rock. I know a lot of authors are tempted to go out and get a fan page as well as a normal profile. It’s a good way to separate your personal from your professional, but don’t go bugging everybody to become a fan on your professional author page. It’s annoying. I, personally, hate it when some author I’ve never heard of friends me on Facebook and then five seconds later starts harassing me to like their page. My response is usually a quick unfriend and the chances of me ever getting their book drops from slim to none. I only like the pages of authors I’m actually a fan of, like Stephen King or Anne Rice.

There was this one writer who even went so far as to bother me on Facebook chat. I’d never spoken to him before; he hadn’t taken any interest in me or my books. The only thing he did was try and force his self-published book down my throat. Please, for your own sake, don’t do that! You’ve got to strike a delicate balance between marketing yourself and being social. If there’s a good review out on your book, post a link to it. But also remember to post things that have absolutely nothing to do with your writing. People also want to know who you are as a person. They want to connect with you on a personal level. They don’t just want to hear about your book.

  • Twitter:

Twitter is a little more complicated to get a handle on. A lot of people find twitter difficult, because it’s so fast. It’s hard to keep up with everything that happens on it. It’s like being at a very busy cocktail party and only getting snippets of conversations. There’s also a temptation to follow thousands of people, but if you do that do your really have a quality stream or are you simply following people to get them to follow you back? I prefer to follow people who I find have something relevant to say. I follow other writers, publishers, a few agents, publicists, and most of them are part of the horror industry. I would also suggest tweeting a few times at different times during the day. Once again, don’t just tweet about your book. Be a part of the conversation.

  • Goodreads:

What makes Goodreads so brilliant for authors is their author program and the fact that everybody on there is a reader. They’re the perfect audience to market to. You can also add a stream from your blog to your author page. You can add your book trailer if you have one. As you publish more books your Goodreads author profile is automatically updated. There are loads of forums where you can list yourself, your book and join the conversation.

Book reviews:

Book reviews are unfortunately something that authors have to get used to. It’s one of the main ways of promoting your book. Word of mouth is probably the fastest way to get the word out about your book and reviews are one of the main ways of doing it. Bad reviews suck, but when you get a really good review there’s nothing quite like it. Knowing that someone who doesn’t know you, thinks that you’ve done a brilliant job is incredibly reaffirming. When you get a bad review do NOT respond to it. Do not get into a debate with the reviewer. They’re entitled to their opinion. When I get a bad review, I go back and read all the good reviews and eat some chocolate. I feel much better afterwards. There are also lots of horror sites that give fair book reviews.

When looking for a site or a blog to review your book, have a look at the reviews they’ve written in the past. Are the reviews fair and well thought out? Or is it just a quick opinion piece? How much traffic does the site get? The site should also list their review policy. What are they looking for? Do they accept ebooks or only print books?  Do they have a contact page? Only once you’re satisfied that it’s an above board review site should you get in contact and send them a review copy. Be prepared for a long wait. Most decent review sites have a huge backlog. Some reviewers have taken a year to review my book. In some cases I’m still waiting for that review. Whatever you do, do not harass the reviewer for that review. They’ll get to it. You don’t want to poison their opinion of your book by being overzealous. Patience is the key here.

Blog book tours:

These are relatively new, but are becoming more and more popular. A single author blog tour should ordinarily last from ten days to two weeks. It consists of a guest blog post or interview on a different blog every day. It does involve quite a bit of work and planning, but the nice thing is you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home. When picking your blog stops make sure the blog gets a decent amount of traffic and that the blog has something to do with your book. Since this is a course on writing horror, I would suggest blogs that have something to do with horror or publishing or writing. I don’t think a blog on knitting would be a good idea. Here’s a good place to help you plan your blog tour: http://blogbooktours.blogspot.com/ Join the yahoo group. Dani helped me plan my first blog tour. It was one of the most helpful experiences.

Another type of blog tour that’s making an appearance is the blog hop. It’s where a bunch of authors get together and promote it so that potential readers can hop from one blog to the others. Each blog offers prize’s etc. I took part in the Coffin Hop (http://coffinhop.blogspot.com/) this year, it was a great success. I had a couple hundred new visitors on my blog every day during the hop. It was great exposure and I met a whole lot of other horror writers I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to meet.

Live readings/book signings/panels

I hate public speaking. I absolutely loath it. Put me in front of a crowd of people I don’t know and I freeze up. I’m far more charming one on one or in front of my laptop. Strangely enough, I find panel discussions a lot easier to handle, maybe it has something to do with my not being all alone in front of everybody else. If you get invited to talk to a book club or at a restaurant or at a bookstore, don’t make the mistake I did on my first one. Start with a reading from your book. I found it calmed me right down. Take a few notes on what you want to talk about. I didn’t. The moment I stood up in front of all those faces, everything I thought I wanted to say flew right out of my mind and I was left with a complete blank. Question and answer sessions are great. It makes things move a lot quicker and the audience feels that they’re a part of it all and that they’re getting to know you better.

When you’re signing books afterwards make sure you get the correct spelling of the person’s name before you start writing. I had a guy scream at me when he’d bought my book for his girlfriend. I didn’t realise that she spelled her name differently to all the other girls out there with the same name. I ended up having to apologise to the girlfriend for the incorrect spelling as a part of the note I wrote. It was all rather embarrassing.

Radio/TV interviews

These are incredibly exciting and they make us writers feel like we’re celebrities, but they are not the staple in our marketing and publicity arsenal. Getting a radio or TV interview is incredibly rare, especially for a horror writer. Strangely enough I’ve never seen a pickup in book sales after I’ve been on the radio. I’ve been on small radio stations that only have a few thousand people listening to the big national radio stations and while it is great publicity, I’ve had more sales from a blog tour. Don’t fixate on what you perceive as the big prize, you’ll only be disappointed.

Getting published

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Last week we chatted about writing for games, this week we’ll talk about getting published.

‘My advice to aspiring authors is to read widely and read outside of their genres. Read everything from classics to best sellers and even the newspapers. It doesn’t matter what genre you write. Then get your posterior on a chair and write every day. Even if you manage 500 new words every day, that’s something. Revise your manuscript to within an inch of its life. Get peer reviews from fellow writers (you can find them at places such as www.absolutewrite.com/forums) and submit, submit, submit. For every rejection you receive, send out another submission until you can honestly say you’ve tried.’Nerine Dorman, author of Khepera Rising. 

So … you’ve finished your book. Congratulations! Now what?

Well … you have a few decisions to make. Do you start submitting to agents? Do you submit to small or independent publishers? Or do you go the indie route all on your own? Do you go print or ebook? Or try both? In todays publishing climate all of these options are viable, it just depends on what you’re looking for and how much rejection you’re willing to take.

If you go the self-publishing route don’t just get your auntie or your mother to edit it for you. Hire a proper editor. Self-publishing has a bad wrap because writers don’t have their books edited properly or they don’t get a cover designed. Self-publishers often end up with an unprofessional product and as a result it’s looked down upon and it doesn’t sell. So … hire an editor and get a professional to design your cover. You want your book to be and look as good as it possibly can, don’t you? You also don’t want people to leave scathing reviews on Amazon because your book was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. And people do judge books by their covers.

One of the really nice things about the horror industry is that there are quite a few reputable small and indie publishers who are focused on horror. You don’t need an agent to submit to them but you do need to stick to their submission guidelines. Every publisher will have their submission guidelines on their website, read them carefully. Do not deviate from what they ask for. If they ask for the first three chapters, only send them the first three chapters. Don’t send them the whole manuscript. They get so many submissions and can only afford to publish a handful, so you don’t want to give them a reason to reject you before they’ve even had a chance to read those first few chapters.

Rejection sucks! But it’s also a part of being a writer. You need to develop a thick skin in this industry. You’re going to get rejected a LOT and even once you’ve got that ever illusive publishing deal, you’ll have to deal with reviewers ripping your book to shreds. So put on your armour and get ready to take a few blows to your ego. Even Stephen King got a hundred rejection letters before he was first published. I’ve still got my first rejection letter, which I got when I was twelve. Handle the rejection gracefully. Don’t reply to the rejection letter with a snotty note on what a huge mistake they’ve made. Simply thank them for their time. You never know when you’ll want to submit to them again. They’ll remember if you were rude.

Agents are just as hard to get these days as a publishing deal with a big publishing house, especially for a first time author. Agents have often got a full list and can’t take on new clients. They also take their cut of your royalties. But if you manage to get a good one, they’re worth their weight in gold. And if you want to get in with one of the big houses, you’ll need an agent.

To be honest, I’m a fan of the small and indie publishers. They do so much for their writers and they provide a lot more freedom. Big publishers are focused on the bottom line and what they think will sell. They seem to stick to what they know and what’s sold in the past. They don’t go out of their comfort zone and want things to fit nicely in a box, whereas the smaller publishers take risks and push boundaries. The writer also has more say in the cover design and pretty much everything else with a small publisher. You’re just another cog in the wheel with a big publisher. One of the draw backs with a small publisher is that they don’t have a budget for promotion and marketing. You’ll have to do it all yourself, which while a lot of work can be a great deal of fun.

Make a list of the publishers you’d like to submit to, make sure it’s a reasonably long list, but just remember most of the big publishers do not take unsolicited manuscripts, that’s where agents come in. You need to play a numbers game here. The more publishers or agents you submit to, the greater your chances of getting picked up. Have a look at their guidelines, stick to them and send it off. Then hit the next one on your list.

Now the long wait starts. Publishers and agents can take three to six months to get back to you, only to reject you. If you haven’t heard back within six months, send a follow up to make sure they got it. Sometimes things get lost in the inbox. Just keep at it. Being a writer requires persistence. You’re not going to get anywhere in this business unless you put yourself out there and keep doing it.

While you’re waiting, start work on another book or get a few short stories out. You have to keep writing and submitting. Writers Write.

Have a look at these websites:


Game Writing

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Last week we chatted about writing short horror fiction, today we’ll be discussing Writing for Games.

‘The Horror genre has long been a cornerstone in computer and console games, from Phantasmagoria to Doom, Alone in the Dark to Plants versus Zombies–and many in-between. In the early days, game developers themselves wrote all the text for a game, but in more recent times, many game companies have come to value the polish only trained and experienced writers can provide. This is presenting a wealth of opportunities for writers. The games industry is a demanding mistress, however, and in order to succeed, you must be devoted to her.’ –  Angel Leigh McCoy, writer/game designer at ArenaNet  

Do you play games? I don’t mean mind games. We all play those in some form or another. I’m talking about role playing and video games. If you don’t play them, you probably won’t have a feel   for the intricacies involved in game writing. You also won’t have a clue what makes a game work, what makes it fun from your own experience. If you want to write games, you have to play them.

So … you’ve played some games and now you think you’re ready to write them. Well … slow down. Breaking into the industry can be a little on the hard side. Get ready to network. Go to trade shows, conventions, and any other industry get togethers that you can find out about. Collect as many business cards as possible. Make friends with as many industry players as you can. This also holds true for anything in the writing industry.

Write a few reviews on games for gaming magazines. Some game magazines hire freelancers, but they expect in-depth, well thought out reviews. It’s not like writing a review for your blog. An added bonus with being a reviewer is that, like with book reviewing, you get a lot of freebies to play with. Another avenue to pursue is writing game guides and role playing game books. Here’s an interesting post on getting into game writing: http://blog.ubi.com/the-write-stuff-on-becoming-a-game-writer/

Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door with game writing etc you would normally end up writing the setting and character sketches, and the general plot based on what the game developer comes up with on the ideas front. You’ll have to get comfortable creating new and complex worlds. It is your job to give the necessary tools to a gamer or game master to play the game and create their own story along with the other players. You can’t just carry them along on the story the way you think it should go. You aren’t writing it for yourself; you are writing it for other players.

You also have to give them choices. If you don’t want a player to go through a certain door because you haven’t actually put anything behind it, you have to give them a reason why they can’t. You can’t just leave them standing in front of it, trying to open it. You also have to give them another option of where to go. There are also certain rules that you have to stick to in the game. Learn the settings and the rules for the game and stick to them. There is no leeway. No breaking of rules allowed.

Get used to collaborating with other writers. Novel writing is a very solitary occupation, but game writing is the exact opposite. You work in a team, which is made up of other writers, designers, engineers, actors or voice over artists, directors, and sound engineers. Working in a team comes with its own set of problems as well as bonuses. You don’t get to decide everything, but you do have a lot of back up, people to bounce ideas off of, and you don’t have to do it all alone.

In horror games, you get to play more with the mood and the ambience. Just think how much fun you can have with the sound effects that are designed to scare the living daylights out of the most seasoned of players.

So … if you like playing games, you can write, and you can handle working in a team, then game writing may just be an avenue that is worth exploring. Good luck!

There are sadly not a lot of books available about game writing, but something to keep in mind is that game writing is similar in its requirements and style to writing a screenplay, so any book on screen writing that you can get your hands on will be helpful as well. 

Recommended reading