“This is the time of the Infernal Clock, when the serpent sends his army out into the world to continue the eternal struggle. Their deeds are recorded in these pages, a small sample, one day in the life of tormented souls”
The Infernal Clock – stories compiled and edited by David Shakes and Stephanie Ellis
Stephanie recently met up with frequent Horror Scribes contributor Alyson Faye and kindly offered her insights into her journey as a writer and her involvement with The Infernal Clock – a blog that publishes anthologies of dark fiction.
How did you get into writing in the first place? Is it something you’ve always done?
No. It never even crossed my mind when I was younger. Reading was my escape and I just loved picking up a book and disappearing into it. I came to writing in a roundabout way, initially writing ‘verse’ in a former workplace. A small group of us were pretty hard working types but we were often called upon to put the work of others right or sort out a problem – those others being paid a damn sight more than we were – and with very little acknowledgement for our efforts. I wrote poems which ‘caricatured’ people and events and showed them to my little group. It was a way of letting off steam and dealing with resentment. From there people actually asked me to write poems describing themselves, then it was onto poetry in the local paper and a few short lists and then I took the plunge and did a short story writing course run by The Writers News – I was in my thirties at that point. The result of the course was ‘you can write and write well but your work is not really for the mainstream’, i.e. I couldn’t write stories about cats stuck up trees or beating hearts. So I stopped. I had a young family, the stresses of home life and was pretty depressed about the response to my writing. I dabbled a little in my forties but family still took priority and then finally, I just thought why not try again and here I am. About eleven years writing, but only taking it seriously around 2013/2014 and sending my work out at that point.
Have you, from the start, always written horror? Or did the dark side slowly suck you in? Why horror?
No. I tried to write for women’s magazines – can you believe that now when you read some of my stuff? Even tried for ‘People’s Friend’ but it wasn’t to be. I continued to write verse and that tended to be darkish. I just happened to see a submission call for a potato-themed (!) horror anthology and I don’t know what it was – but I thought why not? And gave it a go. It was a dark story but not horror so it was rejected but the feedback was positive so I decided to have another bash. I found I really enjoyed adding the darkness to a story.
Can you tell us about your early experiences of getting published? (Where? Who with?) And how hard was it to break through into publication?
My earliest publication breaks in terms of stories came via the wonderful Theresa Derwin who ran Knights Watch Press at the time. She’d rejected my potato story but had another call out for ‘The Last Diner’ and that was the first of a number of acceptances by her. I also got stories in to ‘Massacre’ and ‘Sanitarium’ magazines at the time and I felt as though I’d found my niche – although it was a surprising place for me to be. The hardest part was stepping out of the comfort zone of known markets and trying others but I continued to get accepted (as well as rejected) so I knew I wasn’t completely hopeless. Recent times have been tougher though. I’ve noticed the market seems to be shrinking in terms of outlets, the numbers submitting are going up and it’s generally harder all round. I have also pushed myself to apply to pro- and semi-pro paying markets which means the likelihood of rejection is higher because I wanted to see if I was good enough. In most cases it’s been almost but not quite. (Steph is being modest here, she has an impressive publications CV – Alyson)
How and why did you decide to set up your indie publishing imprint The Infernal Clock (also the name of the blog/site http://infernalclock.blogspot.com/) with David Shakes?
Well, that was initially Shakes’ baby. He came up with the idea for the anthology – got a load of people to submit but I missed the call. He ran a competition for the 3 o’ clock slot which remained, I entered (sole entry, I think they all probably felt sorry for me) and then he needed help to see it through (he has a very pressured ‘real life’ job). I stepped in at that point and pulled it together and then Shakes was able to take it to the print stage. We just got talking after that and it seems to have evolved. We decided it would be a way to give exposure to some very talented writers and at some point promote our own writing. It has been an exposure only market, any money that’s been made has gone to pay expenses at Infernal Clock – neither Shakes nor myself have profited from it financially but that hadn’t been the intention for those books. The intention had been to create a high-quality recognisable brand which we could build on. Our ultimate aim is to produce a publication that pays authors for their work
Tell us about the birth and production of the anthologies: first The Infernal Clock then CalenDark and due in October, DeadCades – the cover art by the way for the first two books is very striking and memorable.
The Infernal Clock was Shakes’ idea of filling every hour in one day with a horror story which took place within that hour. Instead of stories being submitted, he simply offered the hours out and writers grabbed the ones they fancied. For the second book, I mentioned the traditions of the year, e.g. Bonfire Night and it was Shakes who came up with the title CalenDark. That was done slightly differently with a proper submission call for each slot. The trouble was we got more than one story for some slots and none for others (which we filled by invite). The last anthology’s title was from one of the contributors, Christopher Long and this one was invite only. I’d got to know more horror writers via Horror Tree so I was able to reach out to those who worked more regularly on the dark side and whose work I knew. It has meant a lot less editing in this instance and everything is going to plan (touch wood). In all three anthologies, I’ve done the initial editing part, putting the stories into a structured document, working on edits with the authors and getting everything pretty much at final draft stage and then it goes to Shakes to do another proof read (hopefully with no or little change) and then he sorts out the publishing bit. The Infernal Clock has done hours, days and decades; I said that was it for time-themed anthologies just as Shakes started muttering about centuries …
Shout-outs must go to the book cover designers: Tamara Rodgers (Infernal Clock) and Tim Youster (CalenDark). Tam is an original FlashDog and did the artwork for their anthologies and created the style which is becoming our brand. Her return to studying meant she couldn’t do the cover for CalenDark but Shakes made contact with Tim and he came up with a great design for us.
The Infernal Clock’s next project? We are seriously thinking about a magazine – and one which will pay authors. We intend to spend this summer researching what is currently out there. I’m going to create a spreadsheet, both Shakes and Stuart (Conover- founder of the Horror Tree site) know how much I like my spreadsheets and I analyse any magazines we can get our hands on in terms of content, length, style, cost, frequency of publication and the like. Any magazine we produce is going to be properly researched, I don’t want to do something we can’t sustain or which will just die a death.
What are you currently working on?
My current WIP is a folk horror novel, ‘The Five Turns of the Wheel’. It is an expansion of the story of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler in an area called the Weald where the Wheelborn, people from a world just beyond the veil, cross over at certain times of the year to fulfil rituals. ostensibly demanded by Mother Nature. These rituals focus very much on women and their place in the circle of life, what they are expected to suffer in order that the wheel continues to turn. It is dark, it does get a bit bloody and for the first time includes something of a personal nature reflecting a rather traumatic experience from my own past but which fits the theme of motherhood and loss and suffering. I have finished the draft but it needs a few chapters adding to it to balance viewpoints. I’ve found since I finished I don’t want to leave this world behind and have actually created some linked short stories, one of which, ‘The Way of the Mother’, is being published in Nosetouch Press, ‘Fiends in the Furrows’ anthology due out in September this year.
I have a collection of published and some unpublished stories ready to go. I’m just waiting on Tim Youster for a cover image.
I also have a collection of twisted nursery rhymes, which have been hanging around for ages. I WILL sort that this summer, as soon as I’ve done something to Humpty Dumpty.
You are very supportive of up and coming writers, what advice would you give? Your top tips?
Read widely, write as much as you can but write what you enjoy. Read the advice others give but then follow it only if it works for you, after all everybody’s different. Understand rejection is part of the process unless you’re amazingly lucky all the time and with that you will often get editorial comments about work. Learn to work with editors and be polite, don’t rant at them or insult them. So many give their time freely and aren’t obliged to look at your work at all. This way you will get a reputation for being professional and mature and will be looked on favourably by editors as you progress, even to the point where you get invited to submit. Find people you can trust to beta read your work. Proof-read your work as much as possible so your mss is as clean as it can be and when submitting, above all else, READ THE GUIDELINES.
Read Stephen King’s On Writing and Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story.
In addition, don’t be solitary. Don’t allow social media to take over but find a few people online, whether on some of the flash sites lurking around or on twitter (I’m on there @el_Stevie), go talk to them. You will find they offer great support when you’re down, will be your biggest cheerleaders and will remove some of that isolation. Then, when you think you can, start meeting people in real life, get to some of the cons (conventions) and turn these virtual friendships into real ones. It can be scary but there are always others in the same boat as you.
Speaking of which. I took the plunge this year and attended EdgeLit in Derby at the Quad for the first time. This is a one-day convention for writers in speculative fiction (yay, they do exist!) where you get to attend panels delivered by some of the big names in the field – I’m afraid I followed Paul Tremblay around! – take part in workshops and drop in on book launches. I did not do workshops this time, maybe in the future. I just wanted to see what these events were like but also mainly meet people in the flesh. I was lucky enough to catch up with Aly Rhodes (writes as Alyson Faye) and Martin Fuller, both contributors to TWF at Horror Tree as well as being DeadCades writers. I also met up with Theresa Derwin again and met some of her friends for the first time. I loved this day. I felt as though I was among ‘my people’. They were interested in my writing and background, I was interested in theirs. Everyone was genuine and friendly. I felt like a writer.
Listening to the authors who had made it also revealed they had trod the same path as us and they did not set themselves above anyone else. To hear Paul Tremblay had approached 200 agents was reassuring – he’s been there, done that.
I missed some people but we’ve since made contact on Facebook and will meet up at SledgeLit, the Christmas version of EdgeLit. I’m also hoping to go to the British Fantasy Society’s FantasyCon in October, ooh and StokerCon UK in 2020. If you’re in the UK and intend to go to one of these cons I mention I’m going, get in touch. It is hard to make that first step, usually wondering what on earth you are going to say but a ‘hi’ and a very British chat about the weather is usually enough to break the ice.
Where can readers follow you online?
I’m on twitter @el_Stevie and have a website https://stephellis.weebly.com although I am intending this summer to get a ‘proper’ website and domain name. I’m also on Facebook although I don’t spend too much time on there.
Interview with Stephanie Ellis for Horror Scribes July 2018 by Alyson Faye