Bright Lights #12 - Dan Dillard - Giving Up the Ghost

Two things every writer needs to do:

1) Write. This is a no-brainer.

2) Find your own voice. And what I mean by this is, don't write for the market. By the time you've finished your "Barry Popper and the Wizard's rock" story, Vampires are the new game in town. Or, Hunger Games. Write for yourself and to your own strengths, then have some faith that your audience will find you.

My next victim on the blog is Dan Dillard and he embodies these two important traits. A prolific writer, Dan has several books already available, with a new one coming out on June 1st. He also found his own voice, writing in a genre that he loves. And while he writes, he waits for his audience to find following the blood trail...

The Dude abides...

Q - Hi Dan, tell me a little about your newest book.

The new novel is called "Giving Up The Ghost" and it will be available on Amazon ( June 1st...
It's part love story, part paranormal horror, part black comedy. There's this guy, Gerry--an approaching-middle-age do nothing who thinks the whole world is out to get him. He uses drugs and alcohol and women to try and fix thing, but they only make it worse. He had a quality childhood and was raised by loving parents who can't figure out where things went wrong. His elderly parents, Bill and Margo, have tried numerous times to help Gerry get back on track, but it never seems to work.
With one last effort, Gerry seems to be getting his life sorted out. He stays sober for a few days, and lands a few job interviews. Just as he sees some luck coming his way, a series of events drag him back down to his old ways. Bill and Margo decide the only way they'll ever be able to help to haunt him. That's when things get really insane.

Q - What got you started writing horror stories?

I've loved horror to an almost unhealthy level, as long as I can remember...Movies, books, art, radio shows, monster makeup, Halloween...and I've been writing stories as long as I can remember. I only got serious about writing in 2010 and it just seemed natural to write horror.

Q - What is the particular appeal of writing horror? Is it being able to scare your readers or is there something deeper involved?

I think the attraction to horror as entertainment is the ability to survive something terrifying. You know when you open the book or sit down for a film or go to a haunted house that something unexpected and gruesome is going to happen. If you're lucky, it'll be something you've never seen before. But you also know you're going to live through it and most likely come out unscathed. It's a rush. Not quite skydiving, but I think the principle is the same.

Q - I think many genres suffer from the expectation of the audience to hit certain beats in their stories. Are there certain horror story conventions or tropes you try to avoid, or do you just write your story and hope the audience will still be drawn to it?

Oh, I hate convention. I can't stand watching a film or reading a book where everything seems cut and paste and you can guess the end 25% in. I am probably guilty of this on occasion, I mean there's only so many ways to tell a story and only so many words available to do so...but I try not to. Several of my stories have been written with the opposite in mind. Start with what people expect (a vampire for instance) and try and go to the opposite of what folks are used to (this vampire faints at the sight of blood). It can give a sort of "Twilight Zone" feel to my writing and I've been called unfair on an occasion or two, but I'm fine with that.

Q - How do you make the time to write? Do you set a schedule or grab the moments when they come?

I write when I can. I have the luxury and the curse of writing quickly. Giving Up The Ghost's original draft was written in eleven days. Of course it went through several rounds of editing to get it finished, but the main story was there. As long as my train of thought keeps moving forward, I can get several thousand words down in a sitting. I don't write every day, and I should, but I have a regular job and a wife and kids, so until I sell a few hundred thousand copies and can write full time, I'll just have to make time when I can.

Q - Do you have a favorite place to write?

Nope. Although I type everything. I can't write longhand, it's too slow...

Q - What kind of story interests you? Do you read the same stories you like to write?

Good ones. It doesn't really matter as long as the story is good. I read lots of horror, of course, but I also like mysteries and sci-fi and comedy... I don't read romance as it all seems like the same set of unrealistic expectations, but I would if the story was good.

Q - Who are your favorite writers?

It's an eclectic mix of smart asses, much like my friends and family.

Q - Where do your ideas for stories and characters come from generally?

Dreams--mine and my wife's-- people I meet or people I see. I ask a lot of what if questions when I'm alone. Like right now, sitting at my desk I might think, "What if that pencil sharpener was possessed by a demonic spirit, but it could still only act as a pencil sharpener? It would be pissed. It would have a lot to say if it was interviewed. In the end, it was just a demon-possessed pencil sharpener. Maybe it would always break the lead so your pencils would always be dull...."
Okay, that's probably not a good story idea, but that's where many of them come from.
Sometimes people will send me notes and say, "Hey, I had this idea. You should write about it."
Normally, I tell them to write it themselves. All you have to do is write it down. And I don't like taking ideas from others, even if they are freely given. But some of them are pretty good.

Q - By writing twisted and gory tales, horror writers are sometimes considered a little bit twisted themselves lol. Do you think this is fair point?

I think all fiction writers are twisted. I don't think any of them would disagree with me either, unless they're lying to themselves. Absolutely fair point.

Q - When you're writing, how much do you feel you have to adhere to certain limitations based on the genre you're writing in?

I usually write no holds barred, then reel it back in based on where I'm submitting the story. I'll kill kids, animals, old stories have rape, cannibalism, torture, but you know, I don't glorify these things. I just had a story rejected because of subject matter. I'll admit, I expected it when I sent it in, but you have to try. For the most part, I try and create atmosphere and suspense before I go for gross or shocking, but sometimes you need to shock to get the point across. I imagine a lot of writers would disagree with me. I hear it all the time: Find the right words, and you won't have to do this or that... But I also have a short attention span, and wish a lot of writers would just get to the damn point. I don't need descriptive passages to put me to sleep.

Q - Do you use Beta Readers? If so, could you explain what you're looking for from them?

Yes. I dig Beta Readers. Mainly I use them to see if the story works. They can give excellent insight on pacing, continuity, and just to have a fresh set of eyes on the work. It's tough to edit your own work because you know what you were thinking when you wrote it and tend to fill in blanks that others might not see.
I have had Beta Readers actually go through and line edit for me. I didn't ask them to, but they did. It was fantastic.

Q - What do you think are your particular strengths as a writer? Dialog, action, description...what are you most comfortable with?

I'm good with dialogue, bad with action. I tend to rush the action. I hear that all the time. I have a great build up to a particular moment and then when it comes time to wrap things up, my action sequence is kinda staccato and short. Sounds like a bad sexual reference.

Q - You've got several books available through Amazon, what are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

I think either is fine. Traditional publishing is better if you, as an author, can get that sweet deal where the publisher actually gets your books on shelves and advertises for you. That lets writers focus on writing and not marketing which is probably my single biggest peeve. I hate marketing! But there's something about having complete control that is cool. I'm not getting rich on writing and didn't expect to, but it's fun, and maybe one day, I'll be able to eat and pay the electric bill with it.

Q - What compels you to write, drives you to keep going, even on the days you'd rather just throw in the towel?

No idea. And those days come often. It's a creative energy. I have to be creating something. I write and I play a few different musical instruments, draw, build props for Halloween, do some wood working, cook, dabble in film and animation. If I can't do one or several of those things on a regular basis, I become a very unlikable person and tough to be around.

Q - What is the reaction to those around you, family and close friends, about your writing?

Nothing but support, which has made it that much easier. Although if I only listened to friends and family, I'd feel like a very poor JK Rowling. So I also listen to others. The best comments are when someone you've never met says, "Hey, I read your story, it scared me!"

Q - What are your thoughts on the uses of Social Media (Facebook, Twitter etc) for writers. Has it helped in your development as an author?

Good for networking. I think at one point it was a good place to build a fanbase, but now every writer has multiple Facebook pages and a Twitter account for each book and Goodreads and LinkedIn and Instagram and... and... and... and.... and it has all become saturated with "Check out my book at this link" scrolling non-stop on all of them. So, I'd say for anyone selling a product, it's a good place to network.

Q - Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, any quick cure advice?

Not really... but I juggle several stories at once which might help that. If I only had one project going, I'm sure I would hit a wall. I'd say the best thing to do is step away from it and take a break. Then, if you still can't come back after a day or a week, start writing something completely different. Even if it's awful, it will spark ideas. Deadlines and gunpoint help as well, I've been told.

Q - How important is it for a writer to also be a reader?

Well, Stephen King says you can't write if you don't read, but what does he know?

Q - Library or Bookstore?

I like both, although I generally read e-books. Gasp!? I know.

Q - Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to?

No, and only because my first love is music. It's too distracting and I get too into the music and lose everything else in the world.

Q - How do you choose your next story?

They choose me.

Q - Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are yet to start on their journey?

Write. It's no great mystery. If you have an idea, write it down. No one started out great, they had to work at it. Forget about the rules, just write. You can edit it later and learn along the way. It takes courage to put your ideas out there, but the thing is, if you don't, something great might be lost on the rest of us. I think it was Kevin Smith who said something like: It's free to encourage someone to create. But when you discourage an artist, you could be costing the world the next great song, great book, film, sculpture, painting, dance.... Think about that. Of course, he also said, "The real money is in dick and fart jokes." and that's why I pay attention to everything the man utters.

And finally - You're going to be stranded on a desert island (for a wee while) but I'm going to allow you to take 1 book, 1 piece of music, 1 movie, a bowl of your favorite dessert and 1 person you'd like to share the island with for a while (alive, dead, fictional or matters not) What are your choices...and if you want to elaborate...tell me WHY?

A blank notebook so I might write.
Just one piece of music? There's too many to choose from. I'm hard core into Jack White and the Raconteurs right now, but I'm not sure that's really Island music... Maybe some Bob Marley.
A bowl of vanilla ice cream with crinkled potato chips-don't judge me.
My wife. She's my best friend, and if I ever go to a beach and don't take her, there are violent consequences.

Violent consequences...sounds like another good story in the making! lol.

My thanks to Dan for stopping by the blog. Follow Dan, and check out his books here:


  1. Frog again - Read it! Vairy interesssting!Good. Nice guy, good beard, cool T-shirt.

  2. Great interview, guys! Loved your advice, Dan! And congrats on the release!


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