Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sins of the Nine Circles of Hell as Inspiration: An interview with award-winning horror/thriller anthologist Connie Corcoran WIilson

 1) Please tell us about your collection.

Hellfire & Damnation II is the second short story collection organized around the framing device of Dante’s “Inferno,” the 9 Circles of Hell, and the crimes or sins punished at each of those levels of Hell. It is 53,000 words long, with illustrations for each story and a “From the Author” section explaining the inspiration for each of the 11 stories. The first collection was 47,000 words, with 15 stories, but it had neither illustrations nor a From the Reader” section

2) What got you interested in writing a collection organized thematically around Dante's "Inferno"?

 I was searching for a unifying device that would allow considerable flexibility of theme, topic and setting. Someone said to me, “Why not use the 7 Deadly Sins?” (My publisher, as I recall). My response was that that had been done. I remember 1968’s Rod Steiger movie “No Way to Treat a Lady” that used the 7 Deadly Sins and the movie “7” with Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow also used it. There also was a film “Zodiac,” (Robert Downey, Jr., 2007) which involved use of the horoscope. So, I was considering many possibilities. Dante’s “Inferno” had not been used as a unifying device, as far as I knew.

Dante’s “Inferno,” which I read as an English Literature major at the University of Iowa, is a well-known classic that had thematic possibilities, especially after I investigated all the crimes and sins that ARE punished at each level of Hell.  I could not think of anyone who had “done” this particular organizational frame before, and isn’t that what writing is about: thinking creatively? When I investigated and realized how much leeway you can  have regarding the crimes or sins punished at the various levels of Hell (i.e., there are many MANY more choices than I have used, as of now, so the beat goes on), I realized that, for me, this was a good answer. The frame allows me to change it up and have a variety of settings and themes as I move forward. [Although a couple of levels----most notably gluttony and heresy---are more difficult to write than others. You have to expand the definition of “gluttony” beyond just eating food to any overuse of a substance, like drugs or alcohol.]

3) In the West, we, in general, are living in a considerably more secular culture than your standard (or not so standard) 14th-century Florentine poet. Do you think the increased secularism of our culture influences the ability of readers to interface with a thematic structure so intimately tied to medieval theology?

Not really. How can anyone in today’s society not “relate” to the theme of violence or suicide (featured at certain levels)?  I’m not trying to rewrite Dante’s Inferno. I’m merely using the various sins or crimes punished at each level as a unifying device to connect stories that might otherwise seem randomly selected. It works for me; I hope it works for the reader.

4) Please tell us a bit about the different story styles in the collection.

In some cases, I wrote from a first-person point of view, including the first story which is depicted on the cover about the “frozen dead guy” of Nederland, Colorado. Other stories are omniscient author or third person.   In one story (“Oxymorons”), I attempted using dialogue to carry the entire story. In others, I did extensive research and secured actual documents for “Letters to LeClaire,” (which was originally written for a museum in the town of LeClaire, Iowa, Buffalo Bill’s birthplace.) just as I did for “A Spark on the Prairie.” The reader is in for a great deal of variety, and it’s the kind of collection I’d like to read, with notes “From the Reader” on what inspired the stories and even illustrations.

5) Do you have a particular favorite among the stories?

I’m very fond of stories that mix humor with the horror. There are 2 or 3 in this collection that have that distinction: “Room Service” and “M.R.M” and “Oxymorons.” I can’t say they are necessarily my “favorites,” because I thought that “The Bureau,” which is a long story at 7,000 words, was intricate enough to merit a 99 cent E-book version all by itself and it went up on Amazon first as a “teaser,” before I was done with the entire collection. Just as you would always have something about each of your children that you really liked about each of them, there is something about each story that I really like. In one of the slower-paced stories, “A Spark on the Prairie,” I like the fact that it is carefully researched. The reader will learn quite a bit about the early treatment of Native Americans by the United States government and the early settlers. (Theme: greed).  I also often strive for surprise endings (think “The Sixth Sense”) and I managed to pull off quite a few of them, which isn’t always easy. And, as usual, I tried to have much of the violence happening off-screen, a la Alfred Hitchcock.

6) Please tell us a bit about some of your other works.

First book: “Training the Teacher as a Champion,” 1989. Scholarly work on teaching for Performance Learning Systems, Inc. of Emerson, New Jersey. Their company Bible.  Then, I put together a book just for my family entitled “Both Sides Now,” which consisted of anything I had ever written that sold, mostly humorous essays and poetry accompanied by some pictures. (2003) I then wrote a sci fi novel (“Out of Time”) and a script based on that sci-fi/thriller/romance that was a winner in a “Writer’s Digest” competition in 2007 and 2008. I wrote a second book of humorous essays entitled “Laughing through Life” (2011) and, also a full-color illustrated children’s book, “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats,” written for my 3-year-old twin grandchildren at Christmas last year. I got out my 43-year-old scrapbooks and, from the reviews I had written for the Quad City Times between 1970 and 1979, I put together a book of 50 reviews in a retrospective fashion, including all of the ads that ran in the papers at the time (2010). The book was entitled “It Came from the ‘70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now,” and I worked on it for 8 years. It won 5 national awards.  After that nonfiction book, I wrote 3 “PG” volumes containing supposedly true ghost stories told me as I traveled Route 66, entitled “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.” (Vol. I, 2007; Vol. II, 2008; Vol. III, 2009) Then, I moved on to a short story collection entitled “Hellfire & Damnation” (2011) the second of which we are talking about now. I’ve also begun a novel series, which will be either a trilogy or a quartet of books, stemming from a short story within “Hellfire & Damnation” entitled “Living in Hell,” and entitled “The Color of Evil.” The novel came out in January as an E-book and in March as a paperback. It has won an E-Lit Gold Medal, a Silver Feather Award from the Illinois Women’s Press Association and NABE, Pinnacle and ALMA (American Literary Merit Awards) either for complete works or for individual stories within the “H&D” series. One of the 4 books I wrote this year also received an award at the national level from National Women’s Press Association in September. I am concentrating on writing thrillers with suspenseful, horrific content, but more in the Hitchcock mold. I’m not ruling out True Crime or mystery genres, but I like writing the “H&D” series and I’m becoming quite fond of the cast of characters within “The Color of Evil.”

7)  Would you like to share some links to your works?

Readers should check out these links:  www.TheColorOfEvil.com

Also, I’d like readers to know that, for the five days leading up to Halloween (October 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31), “Hellfire & Damnation II” is completely FREE as a Kindle download. Tell your friends. And here is an interview (podcast) with New York City radio personality Cyrus A Webb regarding “The Color of Evil”: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/middayconversations/2012/09/12/author-connie-wilson-on-conversations-live

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