{Interview} The Things We Cannot Say: Author Mitch Sebourn talks to Kendall Reviews.

The Kendall Reviews Interview

Mitch Sebourn

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KENDALL REVIEWS: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

MITCH SEBOURN: First, thanks for letting me answer your questions. I appreciate the chance to talk about my writing. As for me, I’m 37 years old… I’m a horror writer, high school English teacher, and a licensed attorney. I live in central Arkansas with my wife and two cats.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

MS: When I’m not writing or working one of my day jobs, you can usually find me reading, playing guitar, or planning my next Colorado climbing or hiking adventure—I love the mountains and escape to them every chance I get.

KR: What is your favorite childhood book?

MS: I have to cheat and give you two. R. L. Stine’s second Goosebumps book, Stay Out of the Basement, is probably what sparked my love for horror fiction. I discovered that book—that series—when I was really young, somewhere around fourth or fifth grade. But a few years later, I stumbled upon Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always… and dang, that book floored me and tore my imagination wide open.

KR: Clive is my literary idol. He thankfully opened the door for a lot of us. What is your favorite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

MS: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite album, because my musical preferences are pretty… wide open. I was born and raised in the southeastern US. I grew up on eighties and nineties country music… and I still like that stuff. One of my go-to methods of relaxation is to strum old country songs. But you’ll also catch me listening to pop or plain old rock or grunge—Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, especially—or heavy metal… One minute it’s Doug Stone or Bruce Springsteen or even something like Dido, and the next I’m listening to Metallica or progressive death metal like Opeth. And yes, music is a huge part of my writing. I don’t necessarily listen to a lot of music while I’m writing, but music very much inspires me. Sometimes it’s a certain lyric or album title that sparks a story idea… and sometimes, like with my novel Flying Saucer, music is a huge part of the plot.

KR: I appreciate that’s a tricky question. I’ve never really clicked with death metal to be honest. Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

MS: The only horror film that actually scared me was the original Salem’s Lot miniseries. I’m not against violence and gore (though I lean more toward the subtle), but I respect how Tobe Hooper so brilliantly established an atmosphere and created unbelievably effective, horrifying scenes with virtually no special effects and within the constraints of what could be on TV in the late seventies/early eighties. There’s one drop of blood in that entire movie, and forty-something years later, people still say, “That movie scared me to death. I couldn’t look out my window for a year as a kid after I saw that.” I’m one of them.

KR: Yes, the scratching on the window terrified me as well. What are you reading now?

MS: I’m currently reading Ross Jeffery’s Tome.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

MS: Tome is gruesomely excellent so far, but I’m only about fifty pages in. The last great book that I finished was probably Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. I’ve read a lot of good books this year, but I love a good, gritty crime novel, and that one delivered.

KR: I have both of those on my ever-increasing ‘to buy’ list. E-book, paperback, or hardback?

MS: Can I give you one of my lawyer answers and say “it depends”? I strongly prefer physical books. Paperback or hardback, I don’t really care. I just love books. But I am also a big fan of e-books. I read several books on my Kindle every year. I use it a lot when I’m traveling. I can’t deny the appeal of having millions of books at your fingertips or being able to read in the dark without burdening others with a light.

KR: I bought a Kindle, but can’t help myself with hardcopies. It drives Mrs K mad! Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

MS: Without a doubt Clive Barker and Stephen King. I owe a heck of a lot to The Thief of Always, The Great and Secret Show, The Stand, and ‘Salem’s Lot.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

MS: I don’t outline anything. I usually have a character and a vague idea. Once a possible first scene comes to mind, I start writing. Once I get going and a plot starts to appear, I’ll jot down a list of characters and some notes for upcoming chapters. I’d argue that it doesn’t really matter whether you spend weeks writing and developing an outline or a really, really rough first draft: either way, you’re discovering the story, and you’re going to change it and hack at it and fix it and redo huge portions of it in future drafts. I’d rather just jump in and start writing. It’s more fun that way.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

MS: I don’t do a lot of research before I start writing, unless my original spark of an idea includes something I simply have to know before I start writing. As the story unfolds, I’ll stumble upon things that I need to research, and I’ll either pause what I’m doing and look it up or jot down a note to research it later.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

MS: My writing style is hopefully effortless and conversational. I’m not going for literary brilliance, because that’s not something you can aim for, anyway. If you set out to be “literary,” I’d argue you’re guaranteed not to get there. I appreciate good writing. And as I’m editing and revising, I’m always looking for ways to tighten up my prose and say things as effectively as possible. But you’ll never catch me using a thesaurus or brainstorming a metaphor.

KR: Describe your usual writing day.

MS: On days when I’m not in a classroom or courtroom, I wake up fairly early (by the standards of a “day off,” anyway), brew a pot of coffee, and write till lunch. After that, it’s hit or miss. Sometimes my best “writing” takes place while I’m running. During the school year, I write early in the morning or at night.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

MS: I’m partial to my novel Flying Saucer. That book’s about a struggling musician who finds herself on the bad side of some very bad people who are lurking in the desert outside Las Vegas. It’s part horror, part science fiction, part love letter to music and so many of my personal hobbies and interests.

KR: Colour me intrigued. Do you read your book reviews?

MS: Yes. Reviews are incredibly important. I love what modern self and indie publishing has done for writers. There’s so much brilliant stuff out there that a traditional major press wouldn’t touch because it’s not stuff they can easily categorize, throw a dust jacket on, and charge twenty or thirty dollars for. But this glorious age we’re living in also makes reviews that much more important. There’s just so much stuff out there. And you have to get reviews. I don’t reply to them. I don’t beg for them. I don’t cheat to get them. So my reviews creep in slowly and organically, and since I value them so much, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t read them.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

MS: I published my first book in 2003. It was a horrible novel that a now-bulldozed predatory press scooped up. I was a kid, two years out of high school who had no business submitting anything. But when those crooks sent my “acceptance” I thought I was a prodigy who was well on my way. Except they just wanted to publish my book so they could blow up my inbox for the next ten years trying to sell, among other things, copies of my own book to me. The really embarrassing thing is that I didn’t immediately learn a lesson there. It took time for me to realize and accept that I wasn’t exactly dealing with Random House, and maybe that early stuff should have been left on the hard drive. I tell that story to say… I’ve grown a lot. I’ve written a lot of pages and worked my way into a voice and style that’s all mine. I’ve gone to school and taught high school English for a decade, and I’ve learned my way around the language. In short, I’m confident with the voice that I’ve developed over the course of twenty or so years, and I now know—I think—when to spot a raw deal… or a crook.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

MS: Be honest.

KR: What scares you?

MS: Illness. And that’s a theme that pops up repeatedly in my writing.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

MS: My latest release is a novel called The Things We Cannot Say. I’ve joked before that it’s a mashup of The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Scarlet Letter, and The Exorcist. And it’s really not a joke! I was reading the opening scene of The Mayor of Casterbridge with one of my classes—it’s the scene where a man gets drunk in public and auctions off his wife and kid to a sailor—and I thought, I could do something with that. So I wrote this scene where a guy—this lousy, controlling, drunken excuse for a father—takes his daughter to dinner to discuss her college plans, and he ends up getting mad and drunk and sending her off with a stranger. And the book is about this dad pursuing her as she grows up and finds success, and he wants to ruin her, because he evolves into this evil entity, like a demonic version of Chillingworth from The Scarlet Letter, a guy whose sole purpose on this planet is to destroy somebody’s happiness.

KR: That’s one hell of a mashup! What are you working on now?

MS: Two things. I’m writing a new novel. It’s about, well… a vampire with mafia connections who runs an inn in a mining camp in Arkansas, and decades after her death, she still likes to do the odd favor for the desperate and criminal. It’s every bit as bizarre as it sounds. I’m also on the brink of releasing a collection of short stories.

KR: Sold! I think the sparkly vampires damaged the sub-genre to a degree so this sounds fantastic. You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose a) one fictional character from your writing, b) one fictional character from any other book, and c) one real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

MS: Holy cow. From my writing, I’ll choose Riley Saunders: she’s a tough, capable woman who’s defeated werewolves and century-old serial killers. From another book? I’ll go with Nat Blackburn from Hunter Shea’s Ghost Mine. Now there’s a guy who can help you out in a survival situation. (And if Shea hasn’t written more about that character, he needs to!) Real-life? Send over Bruce Springsteen, as long as he can bring his guitar.

KR: Thank you very much Mitch.

Mitch Sebourn

Mitch Sebourn is a writer, teacher, and attorney. He is the author of several horror novels and lives in Arkansas with his wife and cats.

You can follow Mitch on Twitter @mnsebourn

The Things We Cannot Say

After a father-daughter dinner date takes a bizarre and hurtful turn, Harper Monday finds herself leaving behind everything she knows and crossing the country with a stranger.

She’s in pursuit of something that she’ll never have at home: the ability to dream. But Harper’s father has no intention of letting her go.

Even death won’t stop him from returning to his daughter’s life and working to destroy everyone and everything she knows and loves.

You can buy The Things We Cannot Say from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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