Great cover! Love it- and it’s a good intro to what’s happening within the pages of this dark horror novella.
I’ve ‘known’ Ruschelle online as a fellow ‘women in horror‘ writer for a few years now, through our joint work for https://horrortree.com/ and we have appeared in these two anthologies together – see images below- both available to buy on amazon.
as well, I think, we have work in anthologies put together by editors Stuart Conover and Steph Ellis over at the Horror Tree – Trembling with Fear.
So when Ruschelle’s latest novella came out from indie horror press Black Bed Sheets I was keen to grab a review copy.
Interview first up:-
Hi Ruschelle, welcome to my blog. First question coming up:-
How long have you been writing? And writing dark fiction?
I’ve been writing since I was in first or second grade, penning knock offs of stories I read. I’ve been writing dark fiction just as long. My favorite books, then and now were of the ghosty, beasty type. While other girls were reading ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books or ‘Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret’, I was reading books on Witchcraft, Bigfoot and Mythology. It could be one of the reasons why I wasn’t popular… hummm.
Can you tell us something about the gestation and inspiration behind your latest horror novella The Stain?
Basements can be scary. And basements with scary histories can be scarier. One in particular is in Gettysburg Pennsylvania- it’s the Farnsworth House Inn. Gettysburg was the site of a hellacious battle during the Civil War in 1863. The Inn was a makeshift hospital for the wounded, and there were many wounded. The blood soaked into the house and into the ground. Today, there is still a very active paranormal presence at The Farnsworth and throughout Gettysburg. As a Pennsylvania resident and Gettysburg haunt enthusiast, Farnsworth and the surrounding area was an inspiration.
The story was born of bloodshed, a prolific stain…
How long did it take you to write? And then rewrite?
I started writing The Stain in 2014… I think. It was one of those stories that I started and stopped a crapload of times. I would work on it furiously, but something else would take precedent, dropping further in my Word documents. But it always resurfaced. It finally was finished in 2018 and edited in 2019.
I particularly enjoyed your depiction of the teenage girl, Livy, in the novella. Have you written children/teen characters before? How hard/easy do you find them to write?
Livy was my second children’s character. My first was a children’s story I wrote, (there was a monster in it, of course) and sent it off for a professional to critique. Well, they hammered the shit out of the story and the beating tore at my writing psyche. I refrained from writing for a few years because of it. But after a few years of licking my bloody wounds, I knew I was a decent writer who just needed guidance. It was then, through the creepy Craigslist, I met my mentor and hairiest cheerleader, John Monaco and created ‘Bone Sai’. From there, with his help I found my voice.
Okay, now back to writing children, (sorry about the tangent) after a few other short stories I wrote what would become ‘The Stain’. I have degrees in Education and taught kids, aaaand since I’m still a big kid myself, writing dialogue and actions for children’s characters isn’t too difficult. I try and think of how I was at a certain age. Even though this generation is more tech savvy than my generation, kids are still kids.
Are you a planner or a pantser in your writing?
I almost always create an outline before starting a story. But more often than not, the idea morphs and some of the ideas I outlined no longer work or need to be tweaked. So I retool the outline adding the new bits. For flash pieces I may not create a traditional outline. I’ll just start writing my initial thoughts, crafting an intro and as I sit there waiting for divine inspiration to slap me in the face, I’ll type little notes on the bottom of the page of random ideas I might want to incorporate.
Do you write :- on a computer? By hand? Coffee or tea? Or booze? Night owl or lark? In the garden or the study?
I write on my phone, laptop or tablet. I do scribble down ideas when I get them… before I fall asleep. Always… before I fall asleep. I don’t ritually eat or drink when I write. Although, If I’m writing in the morning, I will be having coffee. I wish booze was my friend when writing but it either makes me sleepy or do something I shouldn’t be doing, like shaving stray Yeti. Don’t ask… And where do I write? Anywhere it’s quiet. No noise, no music, nothing to distract me. Hell, I’m writing this as I marinate in the bathtub. Scrubbing the kibbles n bits can wait!
What scares you?
People. And they’re getting scarier by the minute. Oh and Trump getting a second term. Terrifies the shit out of me.
Name 3 of your fave horror writers
The usual, early King, McCammon, Straub but I’m discovering so many great indie authors right now. Steph Ellis, Theresa Derwin, Kev Harrison, Patrick James Ryan, Steve Dillon (no relation. Hi Cuz! Lol), Noel Osualdini, Nikki Nelson-Hicks and this chick named Alyson Rhodes. (writing as Alyson Faye- hey thanks Ruschelle for the compliment) Great stuff! And so many others I’ve been lucky enough to read.
Now – drumroll- here’s a review of The Stain:-
The Stain by Ruschelle Dillon Review by Alyson Faye
Publisher: Black Bed Sheet Books
Publication date :- 16 May 2020
Paperback: 168 pages (and ebook)
The blurb was enticing :- a family move into a house, the apparently oh-so-normal mum and dad, (Marc and Claire) and their two kids. They are hoping to build a more solid family base in this old old red brick, with a basement, than their past string of short term rentals provided.
The story is told in shortish, pacy chapters which crack along and are heavy on dialogue. This is an accessible read and one easy to get into.
Of course the very first chapter which opens with the words ‘I was born of bloodshed’ tips us off that all will not be a sunny walk in the park. There is something else or someone else sharing the house, living in the basement, whose history and evil heart are entwined with the foundations. And there is a lot of history, none of it good, attached to this particular house.
The familial relationships are evocatively and swiftly established, with Olivia (Livy- the teen) being particular likeable, shrewd, feisty and she is the one who first realises there is something not quite right about the shadows in the basement.
Claire is a doting mum, to Livy and her toddler son, three-year-old Jasper, and Marc, though an absentee working away dad, also seems a doting family man. Or is he quite what he seems?
Every few chapters Dillon inserts a flashback piece, revealing another piece of The Stain’s history- the first time this happened it did throw me off, as it took me away from the current day narrative, but I quickly adjusted to it and the information does give perspective to what’s lurking in the bowels of the house or as Dillon also calls it the ‘root cellar’ and never have I know anything good happen in a fictional ‘root cellar’.
A third of the way in, there is a switch in the way we perceive, the dad, Marc and the layers of his marriage to Claire deepen and darken. I won’t give away more than that, but it’s a fun ride.
Throw in the possible paedo neighbour, who lurks on the sidelines and uncle Travis, a work colleague who hangs around the family, and the human drama is ramping up. Meanwhile Livy is becoming increasingly sucked into the web of tricks and games the inhabitant in the basement is playing.
There is a terrible tragedy which I didn’t see coming and took my breath away, and Dillon successfully points the finger away from the real culprit till the end. She plays with our assumptions very effectively throughout the book.
The ending has a few more contortions to put the reader through, before the final devastating paragraphs. It certainly surprised me which way Dillon took the narrative – I did not see it coming.
This is an entertaining, fast read, which takes you on a rollercoaster ride – a blend of horror and thriller with some family drama thrown in. It’s rather different from Dillon’s previous fiction and not what I was expecting to read, but that’s not an issue, just a comment.
The cover is pretty cool too.