Welcome to the Indie spotlight!

Let’s talk about indie’s

Every week I will be interviewing a different indie author and putting that author on display. The links to their works will be linked and a newsletter will be sent out to all my subscribers.

A.M. Synes

Camping as a child, the adults use to tell this author that the yipping noises in the dark were from banshees hunting for kids up past bedtime. She still believes banshees are lurking in that dark line at the edge of campfire light and enjoys bringing readers to the edge of the light to make them squirm. Symes writes suspenseful, ghost-infused stories, some of which have infiltrated a variety of superb horror publications and podcasts. She lives in Minnesota with her best friend and a banshee, and occasionally updates her author page at

https://amsymes.wordpress.com/

Author Interview.

● At what point did you decide to be an author and what was your path to publication?

My grandpa was quite the story teller; some of his stories were true and some not so much, but he always said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” My grandma enjoyed starting a ghost story while our family sat by the campfire, then she’d end on a cliffhanger right before popping up and saying, “Okay off to bed!” So storytelling is in my blood. Combine that with an overactive imagination, parents who encouraged me to write down my crazy ideas, and the old Pizza Hut Reading Club, and a writer was born!

It took me a while to get to the publishing path. I was frequently complimented on my writing skills, but I wasn’t sure how to get published. Then a professor recommended I start reading the biographies of my favorite authors and find where they are published. After making a very detailed Excel sheet, I started stalking publishing houses with open submission calls and slowly but surely have been able to get a few of my own stories published in anthologies and on podcasts.

● Who is your favorite character to write, and why is that person your favorite? If picking a favorite character would be like picking a favorite child, which character seems to be the most demanding or your attention and detail as a writer?

There is a very vengeful writing-child that appears in many of my nightmares and doesn’t leave me alone until I write her into a story. She doesn’t always have the same name and appears at different ages, but her character is there. She’d be a protagonist-gone-bad. I love writing about karma and revenge, so frequently my main characters are harmed in some way and are out for vengeance, or they’re the person causing harm and they don’t make it to the end of the story…alive.

● Describe your writing process. Do you outline, plot and plan, or is your writing more organic?

While I wish I was a diligent daily writer, I’m not. I write when the fancy strikes and don’t stop until the horror is drained from my system. One could argue I have a vampire muse. So I may go days without writing, then spend ten hours straight plucking away at the keyboard. But I am constantly thinking about stories, plots, characters, and scenarios. While I’m hiking, I’m wondering what would happen if Sasquatch popped out from behind that tree, and while I’m at the grocery store I’m practicing my escape if giant bugs attack the parking lot. My phone is filled with story ideas and notebooks are scattered all over my house with random sentences and descriptions, most of which eventually land in a story.

● What are some books or authors that you would recommend to our readers?

This list changes daily as I come across new authors! Beyond the super famous authors everyone knows, a few of my favorites are Benjamin Percy (Red Moon), Gemma Files (Experimental Film), Nick Roberts (The Exorcist’s House), Kyle Toucher (Live Wire), Alan Baxter (Sallow Bend), and Kelly Florence and Meg Hafdahl (The Science Of series).

Plus anything and everything Shirley Jackson touched.

● Tell us what you enjoy most about writing horror.

Horror is such a fun genre. It has elements of all the other genres, but gets at the raw emotions of humanity in a unique way. I grew up on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” and was fascinated by his ability to cover such difficult topics with the restrictions television used to have. He covered deep - and dark - subjects by masking them with aliens and pig masks. Good horror can do this, it can strike at the tough things humanity is going through but with a monster attack to soften the blow to a reader’s mind.

I love writing out worst-case-scenarios, since that’s usually where my mind goes. Then after writing out the destruction, I’m able to navigate my character(s) through the situation and to a moment of clarity. Whether that moment of clarity is positive or all hell breaking loose depends on the karma my character deserves.

● What have you found to be most challenging about writing in horror?

Two things.

One: people love horror or hate it. There is no middle ground. I used to claim I write fiction, or I’d apologize before admitting I write horror as if it was a bad habit. This makes it harder to get people to read my writing - either before or after publication - because I have to find people who don’t make a funny face at me when I explain the amount of blood or the number of ghosts in the story.

Two: horror readers have expectations to read, well, horror. This means lots of bad decisions are made by the characters, death and destruction are eminent, and there has to be a minimum of two surprise (but earned) twists. It’s a little daunting trying to write a creepy story that hits the usual horror tropes, while keeping a fresh twist to said tropes, but not getting away from the meaty goodness that makes horror…horror.

● Have you been able to incorporate your previous experience in your jobs/education in your writing?

My friends and family like to joke that people better be nice to me or they’ll end up in one of my stories. And they’re not wrong! Writing is a great stress outlet. It’s also a great way to try and make sense of things going on in my life that I don’t necessarily have control over. The added bonus of horror is if I’m unhappy about a situation or person, I can send them through a woodchipper in a story!

But yes, a lot of my experiences and work end up in stories. A great story is one that is grounded in reality. Even the most outlandish alien invasions or water demon attacks won’t catch a reader’s attention if the characters or settings are two-dimensional. Giving each real characteristics makes the whole story come alive. Plus we spend how much of our lives working? It’d be a shame to let all that training and onboarding go to waste, so why not build it into stories?

● Do you identify with your main character or did you create a character that is your opposite?

I’m so paranoid that someone will read a story of mine and think the character is me and then ask my parents if I’m a serial killer or something, so I tend to write main characters that are nothing like me. But I usually identify with the villain because my stories typically follow karma and writing is my way of exacting (figurative) revenge on something I’m unhappy about in real life.

● Describe the [book/series] in 10 words or less for people who are just learning about it.

Do you want to know what’s in the body bag?

● Do you have any odd (writing) habits?

I like to write with “Moonlight Sonata” (the basic piano version) blasting on repeat. It’s a haunting and beautiful song that keeps my mind focused.

● What has been the toughest criticism you have received as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I’ve had a few people criticize my work, and I’ve learned (slowly) that most of the time it has to do with either them not liking the genre (so ignore what they have to say), or them having their own issues they’re projecting onto me (so, again, ignore them). But if it’s constructive criticism, I listen. No one wants to hear about issues in the story they bleed their heart and soul into, but if someone is reaching out to help you whip that story into shape, then listen!

This might not be the best compliment, but the funniest compliment I’ve gotten was from my mom who, full disclosure, does not like creepy stuff. She read a story of mine and at the end said, “Oh gosh ewww! Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight!”

● Share some advice for aspiring authors. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Constructive criticism is a good thing! Again, no one wants to hear about problems with their stories, but learn to listen when people give you feedback.

I once shared a story with a class that I was absolutely positive was the most brilliant and dramatic story ever. Almost every person in the class hated the ending. They said it made no sense. I was angry because it made perfect sense and I tried to explain that…then my professor reminded me that I don’t get to go along with my story to every reader to explain. So if 90% of the room doesn’t understand something or doesn’t like something…your job as the writer is to clarify.

● What is your favorite line from your book?

From my story, Truth or Dare.

“Sheryl’s smile stretched into a Cheshire-cat-wide smile. She put the Truth hat down and picked up the Dare hat. Then she leaned in so close to the flame that some of her red strays that had fallen from her braid singed, leaving a smell of burnt hair mixed with the black cherry wax. ‘Well go on then, pick a Dare,’ Sheryl said.’”

● To date, what is your favorite (or most difficult) chapter you have ever written?

Endings are the hardest for me. That post-climax little hill down to the ending. I write horror, so I can’t wrap up the story neatly with a bow, but I also don’t want to leave too much unanswered, leaving readers hanging. It takes me the same amount of time to write the first 95% of a story as it does the last 5%.

● Have you ever experienced writer’s block? How did you deal with it?

I’m a big outdoorsy person, so when I’m stuck, I get outside. Walking, hiking, biking, any kind of activity outside. It gets me away from computers and phones, which are usually giant rabbit holes of distractions and probably cause most writer’s block. The fresh air and sunshine (or clouds or rain or snow) does wonders to clear my mind. And I have an overactive imagination, so while walking outside, I’m usually writing little scenes in my head of what *could* be going on around me. These little imagination exercises usually spark something that helps me finish the original project.

● What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am outside as much as possible. I grew up camping in state and national parks, so that’s where I try to hide whenever I can. My retirement plan is to disappear into the woods and become a creepy local legend parents warn their kids about.

I also read a lot, and watch a lot of movies. And yes, the books and movies are mostly horror.

Imagine, if you will, coming across a post-it note with the chilling message, “Body outside in green bag – side entrance.” Would you drop it and run the other way? Or would you just have to know more? In this collection of nine stories, ten authors from the Dead Birds Writing Group dare to delve into the strange, the dark, the funny, and let’s face it, the off-kilter stories of the troubled characters who just don’t know when to leave a good body bag alone

Want to see your face here?

Just send an email to zmartinbooks@gmail.com with the subject line “I want in the light”

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