Books

The crux of great horror writing

Darryl Accone

It took Sarah Lotz just 30 pages to convince Hodder & Stoughton to make her an offer she didn't refuse: a world-rights deal for her novel The Three.

Horror author Sarah Lotz.

Translation rights in 16 languages have followed, and an endorsement from Stephen King: “The Three is really wonderful, a mix of Michael Crichton and Shirley Jackson. Hard to put down and vastly entertaining.”

Lotz answers the Mail & Guardian‘s questions about the book and her writing.

Describe yourself in a sentence.

I’m an over-caffeinated and over-sensitive workaholic who loves chocolate and adverbs.

Describe your ideal reader.

Open-minded, forgiving and with a sense of humour.

What was the originating idea for The Three?

The idea came from the fact that, like most flight-phobic people, I’m obsessed with air travel. Initially, I wanted to look at how air accidents are viewed by the media, but as I started researching this, the story grew from “What if the unthinkable happened and there were four major plane crashes on the same day?” to “What if there were three survivors?” to “What if there was something not quite right about the survivors?” and so on. I’m fascinated with how quickly fear and paranoia can spread throughout society – especially during the aftermath of a devastating event – and the novel attempts to explore how this could potentially influence the political landscape and possibly change the world.

How significant to The Three are the SL Grey novels you co-wrote with Louis Greenberg?

I don’t think I could have written The Three without the experience I’ve garnered from collaborating with Louis. He’s an extraordinarily gifted literary writer, and he’s really helped me up my game. My other collaborators, authors Paige Nick, Helen Moffett and my daughter Savannah, have also been instrumental in making me a stronger writer.

Describe the process of writing the work. How long did it take?

It took six months to write, a year to research, and several months of hard-core editing, rewriting and revisions.

Name some writers who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.

Too many to mention! Locally, Lauren Beukes, Kgebetli Moele and Mike Nicol consistently inspire me to do better – they’re all such masterful stylists. On the horror side, it would be Richard Matheson, Stephen King and Peter Straub. Stephen King said recently on Twitter that horror is less about the monsters and more about when you “know and love the characters, but you also know something very bad is going to happen to them”. I think this is the essence of great horror writing.

Do you write by hand, or use a typewriter or computer?

I use a laptop.

What is the purpose of fiction/nonfiction/poetry?

I’m uncomfortable with the word “purpose” as there are countless reasons why people read and write and this makes literature sound like a commodity. The pat answer would be: to entertain; to comment on and highlight issues; to open minds to other cultures, possibilities, worlds and lives; to feed the imagination.

Is there anything you wish to add?

I’d like to thank everyone who has bought, read and reviewed my books (both positively and negatively!) over the years – without you I would be nothing.

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