Q&A with Jeremy Billingsley, Horror Editor

When did you first discover that you had a predilection for reading and writing? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 

In high school, we’d just read the poem, “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike, and we were given an assignment as a class to pick a recent work and reimagine it in another way. Now, I’d always “written” my own stories and have loved to tell stories, as well as read and watch movies, but I’d never really done anything for someone outside of my family to read. I reimagined Updike’s poem as a short story and received the highest grade in the class, and was encouraged to pursue creative writing from then on.

 

What were the earliest influences on your reading/writing?

 

My earliest influences were comics, but I started reading Stephen King at an early age, and later advanced to Michael Crichton, Sue Grafton, as well as classics like Dracula and Frankenstein. I also got into some Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, and John Grisham. As I got into high school and college, I spread my wings. I studied under Barry Hannah and Ellen Gilchrist and absorbed their works, as well as modern realists.

 

What was the impact of these early influences, and what, if anything, has changed in how they influence you today?

 

I learned early on in grad school that if I wanted to be a truly great writer, I needed to look outside my chosen genre of horror. So I read everything. Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, Haruki Murakami, as well as others.

 

Who are some of your favorite authors and how have they influenced your preferences?

 

I have so many authors I like, and as I said before, I have learned from authors, even those that don’t write horror. King is still tops, as are my two mentors. I like Hemingway and Faulkner. The Southern Gothic can blend so well with horror. Harry Crews and Davis Grubb and Flannery O’Connor and Daniel Woodrell all come to mind. In horror, I really enjoy reading Dan Simmons, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman (horror? At least speculative fiction). I just finished reading William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.

 

What do you look for in a story?

 

I look for a good story with great pacing, written well. If there is blood and gore and violence and sex, it better serve the story. Don’t throw it in there to impress me. Remember, as Hitchcock said, “It isn’t the bang of the gun, but the anticipation of it.” Good horror is about good suspense. I don’t mind exposition and character building, but be concise and keep the story moving. High stakes.

 

What do you not look for in a story? Is there anything that you would consider a deal-breaker and would make you stop reading? If so, what is the number one thing in a story that turns you off the most, enough to make you stop reading?

 

Bad writing and clichés. You might think those are the same, and maybe they kind of are. But check your grammar and spelling. And don’t give me the same old thing that’s been done time and again. The vampire with a soul, the twist at the end where they were dead the whole time, or it was a dream. I also don’t want to see fan fiction. I want legitimate horror that keeps me awake at night. Scare me. I dare you.

 

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