After an unanticipated hiatus, I’ve managed to navigate the labyrinth of caves and find the Isolation Tank. I’ve perked up the cobwebs and oiled the booby traps and found the monsters a bit manic for company. Kelli Owen was kind enough to accept an invitation for an interview.
Why writing? What drew you to it? Why do you continue?
Many moons ago, in kindergarten, I brought home the kids version of Frankenstein and fell in love with both the monster and the idea that someone thought of this and wrote it down and that was a career choice, like police or nurse or teacher. It was eye-opening, but I wasn’t a savant. I dabbled in poetry and stories in my preteen years, dove into a gothic nightmare of dark writing in my teen years, and came out of high school with an idea of what fiction was supposed to be. It took another decade to be brave enough to share it. I continue because I know what happens if I don’t. That decade of space? I wrote a little but tried to shelf the idea, and ended up writing on anything and everything just to get the snippets out of my head. A writer has to write, it’s the strangest thing to say and the most cliché response in the world, but letting those voices out is therapeutic and simply how we deal with things.
If you were freezing to death and the only thing left to burn were the books in your library, what 5 books would you burn last? (And yes, everything else burnable has been burnt.)
Oh my god, what a horrible question! I love it =) Ok, so basically, what are the five books that I will hold onto until they’re pried from my dying hands, got it. Let’s see. You should know I just went and sat in front of my bookshelves and mentally did this. This really is a very difficult question, and I was surprised at my own answers…
The Distant Summer by Sarah Patterson. I was eight when I read this, and I still reread it every couple years. Besides Frankenstein, it’s the earliest book I remember and it had a huge impact on me. Obviously.
Observations of a Beachcomber. A strange book of quotes I found at a garage sale when I was around ten. I begged my mother for a quarter and used the quotes for deep thoughts and understanding and eventually writing prompts. And I didn’t even understand until I was an adult that I had a numbered limited edition—my first. “To know that a pinprick hurts, does not make it hurt less.”
My paperback beat up writings in the margins, highlighted passages, notes to self and others copy of Emily Dickenson’s collected poetry. That thing got me through some dark times as a teenager and young adult. The keepsake value is just as much for my scribblings as it is for hers.
Then I started looking at all the beautiful signed things I’ve gathered over the years. The books I’ve read and reread, or always tell others to hunt down and read, and it was difficult, but I narrowed it down to two to complete my list of five. First, the Necessary Evil Press limited numbered release of Kealan Patrick Burke’s The Turtle Boy. One of my favorite stories. One of my favorite authors. A gorgeous edition. And the beginning of my “I will have a cover by Caniglia before I die” goal. And finally—though the sexy signed limited and numbered Transformed Mouse given to me by Jack Ketchum himself was very close, it is instead my well-read, beat up paperback of his Off Season. My favorite of his, that I reread almost yearly, and always tell people they need to read. This was the first book I hunted an author down to get a signature on. Whew, that really was a difficult question!
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done (in life or in writing (your choice))?
Had children! It is the most grueling yet rewarding thing a human can do. You create life, bring it into this world, beg it to behave and listen and grow up to be good people, and cry—a lot—along the way. It’s both beautiful and horrifying. It makes a person strong and brave, and at the same time can crush your heart and bring on such a level of fear. There’s a reason authors use children and parenthood in their fiction.
What’s one word or phrase that drives you nuts? Why?
One? Oh dear. I just did a podcast episode on all the new slang that makes me crazy (cray-cray), so picking one is going to be rough. You know though, it’s not going to be slang. As I was about to type—stay: as in, you stay doing that—the answer changed. Coupon. Pronounced as if it were spelled with a Q. That actually makes me wince. I know it’s a pronunciation thing and I should be lenient, forgiving, understanding, but for some reason that makes me nuts. I’m sure it goes back to my childhood or something. Maybe my grandmother hated it and it rubbed off on me?
Do you have a favorite character you’ve created? If so, who is it and why?
Lily May Holloway, from Wilted Lilies. That southern hot mess of a teenager with “gifts” is the strongest character who has ever come from the depths of my imagination. Strong enough that I thanked her in the acknowledgements! I can clearly see her, hear her, I know what she smells like… and she’s not done. She’s got at least one more story, possibly more, as she’s been whispering of becoming a series character and maybe hopping over to the YA market. We’ll see.
Creepiest place you’ve ever been? Has it appeared in your fiction? Why or Why not?
As a child I used to bike to the nearby graveyard with my sister and we would wander the headstones making up stories of their lives and deaths. Over the years, though I have more flight in me than fight, I have tried to go to places meant to get your adrenaline pumping such as historically haunted places, insane asylums, etc. There have been scary places, and there have been haunted places (whether by the unknown or just the history that hung around), and there have been places that should have made me find religion. But the creepiest? Lizzie Bordon’s house. And it’s not scary. It’s sad. There is a creepy atmosphere that just hangs in the air and makes you feel bad, horrible even, for the victims but also for her. And I came away from there firmly believing she did not do it, but that’s a whole conversation of it’s own… (perhaps another more timely (on my part) blog post?)
What’s the best rejection you’ve ever received?
The one that taught me to say “no.” See, there was this short story that I loved, and I sent it to a market on my bucket list. It came back with a note from the editor saying he loved it, but he wanted it to be either chopped and stripped and shorter, or severely padded and lengthened. And I could do neither. I couldn’t take out the scenes that were important, and I write too succinctly to pad something with purple in a manner that it doesn’t actually feel bruised. I swallowed over the lump in my throat and politely declined. And learned a valuable lesson: that it’s okay to say no. I saw the editor at a convention later than year and he told me again he really loved the story, just not the length and was glad to see it preserved elsewhere.
How did you get that scar?
Ha, that’s sneaky and awesome!
I was a young teenager. The lake was high that spring. The wooden dock was low. The standing water had slickened the dock with a layer of algae. I ran down the steps toward the water, hit the slick end of the wooden (permanent) dock, and went down. As I did, my leg slipped out in front of me going under the metal (temporary) dock we put out as a pier each year, and slammed up into a bolt. The bolt hit bone and sunk in. I was stuck. There was blood and tears and screaming. My sister laughed hysterically (and I forgive her, I’m sure it was funny to witness). My uncle held my leg down while my dad lifted the dock up and pulled the bolt out of my leg. I still have a divot in my shin bone because of that, and was informed when I joined the army that it was considered a postmortem scar, meaning, even if I was burnt in a fire, they’d be able to identify me by that because it was in my bone not just my flesh.
What song would precede your entrance into a room if we all had personal soundtracks?
I love this question, and I’ve heard it before. I’ve played this game before. At this time, I still think it should be Plush by the Stone Temple Pilots, and if you haven’t heard it, I absolutely love the Queens of Dogtown cover of that song (from Californication). That may change. Only time will tell.
Promote yourself and/or your writing
Hi, I’m Kelli. I write thrillers with a horrific element, occasionally straight horror, and sometimes truly disturbing things. I usually don’t make you jump, but rather, creep in slowly to settle into the dark places in your mind and make you question the normal things in every day life. Do you know the bus driver you trust with your children? Was that really your imagination or did something just move in those shadows? I’m all over the tropes and have made friends with ghosts, zombies, vampires, serial killers, ancient evils, science projects gone bad, the apocalypse, bugs, Munchausen’s, bad kids and sad parents, and even an entire small town where crime and punishment make you question your own beliefs. Check out my nightmares at kelliowen.com. I can also be found on twitter, facebook, instagram, and just recently wattpad. Oh and I do a little podcast called Buttercup of Doom.
Final thoughts before you run screaming for your life?
This was fun, thank you so much for asking me to do this. Some unique questions that really made me think.
So… what’s your soundtrack?
Thank you, Ms. Owen, you’ve been a most amusing victim…cough…guest. As a prize for being the first to ask me a question, you’ll get a coupon (pronounced correctly) for an extra book to add to the five you had to choose. Transformed Mouse is safe. As for my soundtrack, it fluctuates between the Theme from Jaws and generic circus music (but the second generally follows me instead preceding me). You’ll here them both in random locations as you take inevitable wrong turns on the way out of the tank.