Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on horror author Kelli Owen. The first thing I always like to do is to have authors introduce themselves, and tell readers a bit about themselves and their writing. So, Kelli, could you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
Born in Wisconsin, I now live in Pennsylvania and most of my stories take place in one or the other, or the road in between, as was the case with my short story Jim’s Meats (found in the anthology Lost Highways: Dark Fictions From the Road). As the author of more than a dozen books, including Teeth, Waiting Out Winter, and the Wilted Lily Series, my fiction spans the genres from thrillers to horror, with a dip into the YA version of both, and back again. Besides being an author, I’ve been a reviewer, editor, and podcaster for genre fiction, as well as, an executive producer for indie horror films.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
Standard shopping websites such as Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Kelli-Owen/e/B004DAC27W) or B&N, or for autographed copies, see my website’s Stay Home Book Sale at https://bit.ly/shbs20 (started because of Covid-19’s cancellation of appearances and conventions in 2020).
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
The hub would be kelliowen.com — from there you can find all book news and information, social media links, tie-in locations, and even my Patreon should you be interested in supporting the secrets behind my world.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your newest release, The Headless Boy?
What I write? Everything. I have done humans and creatures, from serial killers to vampires to science gone awry. Ranging from horrific thrillers to psychological horror, with an occasional bloodbath. And while I thought I didn’t quite fit any one area, a colleague decidedly labeled my work while we were on a panel at a horror convention and called it “trauma horror,” which is a nice way to sum it up how I tend to make the reader feel uneasy, rather than scared or sickened.
My newest release, The Headless Boy, falls squarely in ghost story and haunted house territory. It is a quiet, classic horror that creeps in and slowly unnerves you… with a couple areas I’ve been told are truly scary and affected some of the most jaded of my readers. This title was referred to as grief horror, on the level of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary by a reviewer, and I’m quite okay with that assessment.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
While I did do some basic research for a particular poison and a couple of antique toys, the most interesting discovery during The Headless Boy research was diedinhouse.com – go ahead, check it out. And please, contact me via social media and tell me if you find anything creepy.
What was the inspiration for The Headless Boy? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
As I’ve said, I tend to write all over the subgenres that fall between horror and thriller, but this particular storyline was developed while watching a haunted house film and deciding that rather than make people uncomfortable (as I’m usually known for), I wanted to write something actually “scary”—scary enough to turn on lights, or put down the book. Considering some of the messages I’ve gotten from reviewers and readers alike, I’d say I hit the mark.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
My next novel is a coming-of-age story, because everyone has one and it’s time to tell mine. It’s also a period piece set in the 80s, so I’ve had a fun time re-watching movies and researching the news and entertainment from that period. Sure I’m reliving what I remember as a teen, but I’m also seeing some things as an adult looking back. Innocence is a funny thing. You don’t recognize it from inside.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I enjoy cooking, entertaining, board games, and involving my family in any of those. I also love to kill plants. That is to say, I keep trying to have and enjoy green things of all sizes (from windowsill herbs to gardens), but I’m not terribly good at it. And I’m a rock picker at heart, meaning I often pick up rocks from just about anywhere—the beach, your driveway, it doesn’t matter.
What are some of your writing-related hobbies, crafts, addictions?
I love bizarre research books. From ancient symbols to unexpected poisons, my research shelf is full of eclectic treasures. Sure I could Google, but sometimes, just flipping through a book of interesting facts will spark an idea.
Also, last year I found a small, antique drawer about six by six inches, which I have begun filling with miniature versions of books. One of my favorites being the inch-high Dracula gifted to me this past Christmas.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
Hands down, becoming a colleague to some of my childhood heroes. I began this journey (before I was brave enough to share my own writing) as a reviewer who made contact with those writers, and then several of them asked me to edit for them. A decade later, to consider them friends and find my name in the table of contents with them, or alongside them on bookshelves, is humbling and still takes my breath away on occasion.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
It truly depends on the story. I’ve used music to guide my mind by using a different playlist for different character’s points of view (POV). I’ve also used it to keep the pace by having a very specific playlist during action scenes. Generally, if I use a playlist for a specific book, I keep to it throughout the book so I remain in that zone (and some of those playlists are available on 8tracks, the link is on my website).
For my next book, the one set in the 80s, I’ve cultivated a playlist that only has the music that would have been on the radio during the timeframe I’m writing in. I plan for it to not only keep me in that era, but to perhaps trigger small memories or thoughts along the way.
My latest release, The Headless Boy, however, was written in silence. Away from everyone else in the house, written only at night, in dead quiet, with candles burning, while I tried to scare the reader by keeping my own tensions high. Silence can be as much a tool as music can.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
We only recently got a puppy, so I haven’t had too much on the furry or feathered end. I did, however, have a one-hundred-year-old toy as a mascot while writing The Headless Boy. Tom Tinker. He can be seen on the cover. I found him on ebay after researching the toys for the book, and he sat next to the laptop the whole time I was writing. The kids find him creepy, but I think he’s charming.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
Rewrites. I hate knowing something needs to be erased and redone. Not edited, not tweaked, but destroyed with fire and rebuilt from the ground up. It’s painful, and I’ve been known to keep the bad words in a file of shame because I just couldn’t delete them until I was ready to.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
Don’t be afraid to try. Whether it’s a new genre, a different POV, a style or storyline you’re unsure of—do it. And then make a decision about whether to keep it.
Thanks so much for your great advice, and for taking the time to answer our questions, Kelli!