BEN LONG: Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with Scott J Moses, author of the recently released collection Hunger Pangs. Scott, how’s it going?
SCOTT MOSES: Hey, Ben, thanks for having this sit down with me. I'm well, despite this onslaught of a year we're having. How about yourself?
BL: I’m doing well, though I know what you mean about this year. Interesting times to say the least. So, let’s jump right into it, starting with some general questions. How did you get started with writing? What were some of the major successes and pitfalls in the beginning?
SM: The answer's a bit cliché, but I've been writing for fun ever since I was little. I think my earliest story was in elementary school, something about dinosaurs chasing people—you know, Jurassic Park fanboy stuff. But it wasn't until I hit high school and was assigned writing a short story for class that something "clicked." Oddly enough, it took until I was 25 to start taking writing seriously, after that, I never looked back. Early on, I'd say that finishing the first draft of my first novel, which will never see the light of day, was huge for me. I'd go to Barnes and Noble after work 5-6 times a week and write until they closed, and after three months of that, typing "The End" felt like a million bucks. I feel like you learn a lot by doing, just writing, you know? Two things regarding pitfalls, at least from my own experience: Don't put too much pressure on a first draft, just get it out and on paper, and that if you write, you're not an aspiring writer, you're a writer. Like, you did it, you're doing it. Welcome to the club.
BL: I like your definition of a “writer”. Helps take some of the pressure off. You say your first novel will never see the light of day. Why is that?
SM: Yeah, I still like the idea surrounding the first novel and may turn it into a novella at some point, but I’ve grown as a writer in the four years since writing it, and salvaging it would be too much work, it’d be easier to just start fresh with the idea again. It’s still bouncing around in my head though.
BL: What is your writing process generally like? How do you generate ideas for a new story and grow those into the finished tale? I'm thinking specifically of your upcoming collection Hunger Pangs and the wide variety of short stories you created.
SM: Usually I'll get an image in my head that I can't shake, and it typically ends up being the final scene of whatever it is I'm working on. That said, I tend to work backwards, so instead of asking "Where are we going?" I ask, “How did we get here?" Other times, it's a line or bit of dialogue that births a story for me. The Notepad app on my phone is full of random quips and tidbits from my daily goings on that make little sense until they're sat with and nurtured. Notepad is your friend, folks. Most of the stories in Hunger Pangs started off with the last line, or the last scene, I'd say all but “She Walks”, which was a free write writing session, and “Of Turbulent Seas”, which was a dream I had one night. I also find that if I'm stressing over something, it usually, inevitably makes it into the story somehow. Writing is a form of therapy for me and many others I know, and I find that putting down my problems/insecurities helps me stay grounded, sometimes makes for a good story too.
BL: I think it's interesting your process usually involves starting with the end in mind. Do you think this backwards design keeps you more focused when writing? Do your stories ever evolve or change along the way, or do you typically stick with the original idea from beginning to end?
SM: Yeah, I would say that it does for me. I know many writers, whom I respect greatly, who do the exact opposite: pants their way to something great that they never expected, and that’s great, really, just doesn’t work that way for me is all. That said, the stories do evolve as they go, and even if I arrive at the same “image” which jumpstarted it all to begin with, that scene or last line could mean something entirely different by then. I get a lot of inspiration while in the shower, on a long drive, or doing the dishes. It’s weird, but I try to trust the process. A story will let you know how to tell it, and if you’re telling it wrong, it won’t meet you in the middle, at least for me that is.
BL: Getting back to Hunger Pangs, I think this is an excellent collection of stories. Many seemed very personal to me, made more so by the notes you add at the beginning of each, and so I can see what you mean by writing being a form of therapy. Your work has been described by some (including myself) as "grief horror". What does that term mean to you, and do you think it's a fair label for your writing?
SM: That’s really kind of you to say, Ben, thanks so much. I didn’t really know what to expect, this being my debut and all. In terms of labeling it as “grief-horror” I guess, sure? Lol. If the shoe fits, I guess. I tend to have bouts of depression and the like, so getting it down on the page is a way for me to gain the upper hand and pin down my feelings. I just try to be completely honest in the writing, I love horror, just for horror of course, but I think it’s a great vehicle for empathy and a good way to introduce other ideas and human experiences as well. I think you have to be honest, and you’re right, this collection is extremely personal to me, but I figure there’s someone out there who’s gone through or is going through some of the things present in Hunger Pangs, and while my goal is to write for me, it’s such an amazing feeling when someone says something I’ve written resonated with them, or that it reminded them of something they’ve beaten or are battling. We’re all just wandering around trying to make it through life, and it’s encouraging to know we’re not alone. But to finally answer your question, grief horror is the aftermath. It’s what happening after the most terrible thing you could imagined had already come to pass, but that the story hasn’t stopped. For example, Laurel Hightower’s latest, Crossroads, it’s no spoiler, but the story takes place after Chris’ son has died, the character’s main fear has been realized, and we join her in the aftermath. I like exploring the aftermath, what we might do to “right things” for better or worse.
BL: I really like your clarification that grief horror is the aftermath. That it focuses on how a character deals with the trauma instead of necessarily focusing on the inciting incident itself. In your opinion is that exploration of the aftermath more interesting? Does this translate into any running themes/motifs across the collection?
SM: I'm not sure if it's more interesting as a whole, but it definitely interests me, and you could say that it's a theme throughout Hunger Pangs, though not by design. The stories were written over three years and are just what came naturally to me.
BL: You mentioned Laurel Hightower's Crossroads, which is a great book. Do you have any favorite books or movies, or ones that have been particularly influential on your own career as a writer?
SM: Yes, seriously: If you've yet to pick up Crossroads by Laurel Hightower, you seriously should. It exemplifies everything grief horror and it's moving, to say the least. As for influential material for my writing, I'd say that I'm an amalgamation of Cowboy Bebop, The Exorcist, FFVII, The Road (book and film), House of Leaves, and Blues music.
BL: Earlier you noted the collection is extremely personal to you. Not to delve too deeply into your personal life, but do you mind giving some insight as to what makes it so personal?
SM: Yeah, I don't mind at all. The stories that resonate the most with me when I'm reading are the ones I relate to on a personal level. That said, writing is a form of therapy for me, so I find that I'm a bit more personal than I maybe should be when it comes to writing. I'm usually writing about what's stressing me out, or about some looming idea that's keeping me up nights and things like that. I'm not afraid to admit it, and there are story notes before each story in the collection, as you know, that say about as much. I've heard the saying "Horror with Heart" thrown around here and there, and I guess you could file my stuff under that umbrella if you had to, but I don't specifically write to fit a niche, that's just what happens to come out. I feel if I write in that way, the stories may resonate with more people, or even just one, going through something similar, and honestly, I love writing for writing, but when I'm told my work resonated with someone, that's the ultimate cherry on top for me.
BL: Despite any overarching themes, the stories in the collection are all fairly unique to one another. So many neat ideas and interesting twists are presented. Do you have a favorite story in the collection? Or one that is extra meaningful to you?
SM: As to my favorite story in the collection, I'd have to say "Blues Exorcist". Laurel Hightower, of grief horror fame, beta read it for me, and gave me a ton of valuable insights regarding it. I just feel like she and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to writing fiction and we write about similar themes, so that was incredibly helpful and I’m grateful to her for that. But yeah, I wrote most of “Blues Exorcist” laid up in a chair after hip surgery with my ailing/dying dog lying in his bed across the room. I was playing a lot of Blues tracks while I wrote it, singing along and all that, and he would just perk his head up every so often. I don't know, I'm rambling, but that was really the last time I had with him before he passed, and every time I listen to the Blues or get a compliment on that story it makes me think of Samson. As for the one that means the most to me, that's probably "Waning Plumes of Frostbitten Air". Though they all mean a lot to me, that one is the most "me," just out there for the world to see. Sure, there's a narrative and speculative elements involved throughout, but that was just me venting on a bad mental health day, kind of laid bare, at the risk of sounding highbrow.
BL: Both of those stories you just mentioned were certainly standout ones from the collection (though they’re all good). Unfortunately, we don't have time to dig into every single story, but I have to ask about "The Scent of Souls". This was one of my favorite stories, and I felt like it struck somewhat of a different tone than many of the others. Can you tell me more about the creation of this story and why you wanted to write it?
SM: Yeah, I can definitely go into more detail with that one. Around that time in life, all that I did was work. I was taking stock of the direction of my life and of what was important to me back then. In the story, Matt Welsh is a corporate monkey, a prisoner to "the grind" and climbing that corporate ladder, despite not knowing if it's what he actually wants or not. Long story short, or, eh...short story short (hardy har har...) he ends up realizing, through some good ol' fashioned body/eco horror that he maybe has been wasting his life. Writing it was me trying to convince myself to examine my life and the direction I was blindly moving in. Shortly after writing it, I turned down a promotion I'd been working towards for six months, and shortly after that, switched jobs entirely. I'm much happier now, and it's largely in part to Viola Leeworth and Matt Welsh.
BL: I know many of the individual stories in the collection were previously published elsewhere, but is Hunger Pangs self-published?
SM: Yes, Hunger Pangs is what you would call self-published, but so many minds and hands have gone into its creation. Rae Oestreich, my amazing editor, worked hard to make the book what it is, and it’d be a mess without her. Danielle Serra brought a concept of mine to life in a way I couldn’t have imagined with his artwork for the cover. The man is a flat-out sorcerer with the paints. My formatter Julia Scott made the paperback look so, so good. And then, all the reviewers, including yourself, I felt really championed it and continue to do so. I wasn’t sure if this thing would go anywhere being my debut, but to see it on Mother Horror’s (Sadie Hartmann’s) “Best Self-published Horror Books of 2020 So Far” article on Lit Reactor, I was floored. So yeah, Hunger Pangs is “self-published,” but it’s only what it is thanks to the help of so many others.
BL: Yeah, I saw you on that Lit Reactor list from Mother Horror. Congrats man! I don't think it's overselling it to say this collection is certainly worth reading. Do you plan on continuing to "self-publish" your future works (in the collaborative way as you described it)? Do you have plans on submitting short stories to any anthologies or publishers?
SM: Thanks, Ben. I was blown away to have been included. I like to think of my career, though early, as a hybrid author, like Alan Baxter for example. He self-publishes stories and signs with presses. I'm hoping to go the same route. I definitely plan on submitting to presses and anthologies in the near future, and actually put my current WIP [Work In Progress] on hold, in order to draft a story for an open call. There are so many presses I'd love to work with. Grindhouse Press, Off Limits Press, and Silver Shamrock to name a few. From what Hailey Piper and Laurel Hightower have said, Samantha Kolesnik is an absolute dream to work with.
BL: Yeah I've had great experiences with all three of those publishers, and from little I know of Kolesnik she seems great. I know I liked her novella True Crime, which is somewhat grief horror adjacent. I saw on Twitter you were writing a novel, but if that's the WIP you're putting on hold maybe you don't want to talk about it? Anything you care to divulge about either it or the new story you're drafting?
SM: Yeah, True Crime has been on my nightstand for too long now. I love the cover, and I'm hoping to get to it in October. I've heard really great things. And hmm...I guess all I'll say about the novel is that it's cosmic horror/noir in the vein of John Langan/Laird Barron/Alan Baxter. Hoping to have it finished and submitted sometime next year. In terms of short fiction, I'm writing a little something for an upcoming anthology call. Long fiction is great, but short fiction has my heart.
BL: Awesome, well I’m eagerly anticipating anything you write (though that cosmic horror/noir sounds great). Man, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule for this interview. I appreciate it.
SM: Yeah, of course. Thanks again for having me.
If you want to learn more about Scott J Moses and his work then check out his website or follow him on Instagram and Twitter. His debut collection Hunger Pangs is out now on Amazon and wherever books are sold.