Featured Author: Tommy B. Smith
Story: Stealing Sight
State of Horror: Louisiana Volume I
Amanda Hard is a former journalist and magazine editor who received her BFA in creative writing from the University of Evansville, in Evansville, Indiana. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and her horror fiction has appeared in (or is forthcoming from) Ruthless Peoples Magazine, 22 More Quick Shivers from the Daily Nightmare, State of Horror: Louisiana, and State of Horror: Tennessee, both from Charon Coin Press. She lives with her husband and son in the cornfields of southern Indiana, where she practices necromancy and knits socks with deliberately placed holes.
Synopsis: “The Pea Farm” from State of Horror: Louisiana Volume I
In 1936, The Pea Farm is a harsh prison farm. It is divided into a men’s prison and a woman’s prison. The inmates are expected to raise and prepare their own food, and if they do not work, they do not eat. The inmates are not allowed to use their names instead they are known by the crops they tend like Carrot-man and Black-eyed pea girl. The conditions for the prisoners are extreme. Beatings and whippings are commonplace as are outright killing of the inmates by the guards. Even so, couples form between the men and women in secret most end in tragedy. In modern times two couples—Jason and Diana and Chad and Meredith—are exploring the old Pea Farm looking for supernatural occurrences. It is soon revealed that Meredith is pregnant and that Chad is abusive. As the couples begin to explore the Pea Farm, strange occurrences happen and the couples face the ghosts from the past.
“You make any kind of trouble, I will shoot you dead. If you try to run, I will shoot you dead. If you run off in the middle of the night, either the cats or ‘gators out there in them woods will kill you dead sure as I will.” The other four deputies smirked. They nudged each other and nodded.
Time to Meet Amanda Hard
Charon Coin Press: What inspired your story in State of Horror?
Amanda Hard: My story, “The Pea Farm,” was inspired by the ruins of an actual penal farm in Shreveport. While doing my preliminary research, I discovered that the prison’s acreage was un-gated and unfenced (with one notable exception.) As I thought about what might rest behind that singular fence, the story was born.
CCP: Is there a reason this particular state appealed to you?
AH: Louisiana is practically a mythos is its own right. I’ve always been intrigued by its stories of voodoo, hoodoo, and folk magick, and the sheer isolation of some of the areas (not to mention the carnivorous native wildlife) makes it ripe for a good horror story.
CCP: What do you look for in a horror story as a reader?
AH: I’m a fan of what is sometimes called “quiet horror,” which tends to un-nerve rather than terrify. Like most horror writers, I grew up reading Lovecraft, which gave me a deep appreciation for evocative setting and mood, but I prefer characters that are normal people who fall just short of the goals they set for themselves. I subscribe to the “character trumps plot” philosophy, so if you can make me believe your characters are real people with real problems, I’ll read and re-read your story.
CCP: What is your favorite writing snack food?
AH: Those itty-bitty pretzels about an inch across are my go-to snack for writing first drafts, and my drink of choice is Fresca in a champagne glass. When it gets to the revision stage, I usually don’t snack while I work, but do I tend to go through a few bottles of Perrier with lime for each revision.
CCP: What other works do you have out there?
AH: If you don’t count the science writing and boring journalism from the ‘90s, I’m a relative newcomer to the field, especially with horror. I’ve got some published flash fiction out there and probably a disturbing number of stories in slush piles, but State of Horror is really my debut in horror short fiction.
CCP: What is one important thing the readers need to know about you?
AH: How much I appreciate their interest and their willingness to give my stories a read.
CCP: Who are your favorite authors?
AH: This is the hardest question because I have so many. The writers I read the most and I think have influenced me the most are people like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Phil Dick, and Lovecraft of course—all masters of the short story. Theodore Sturgeon had a big impact on me as a teenager, and I spent a long time trying to copy his style. Stephen King’s work helped me survive high school. Women like Angela Carter, Elizabeth Hand, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Karen Joy Fowler, and Miranda July have heavily influenced my fiction writing in more recent years. But there are several authors who blow me away every time I read their books, authors so good at what they do that reading them is humbling, and those are Graham Joyce, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and Haruki Murakami. I love their work, even if reading it does put me into a “We’re not worthy!” mood for a week or so afterward.
CCP: What drew you to State of Horror?
AH: Honestly, it was midnight conversations with other horror-writing friends. We’d all decided years ago that different regions in the US had very different spooky “vibes” about them, so talking about “American Horror Literature” really required you to narrow down the focus to at least one time zone or so. When I first heard about the series, I was excited to see what breaking that criteria down even further would mean. I wanted to find out if New Jersey horrors were really as different as those in Illinois. Turns out, yes they are. Each state has a “flavor” of weirdness about it, and I love the fact that this series is going to celebrate all those flavors.
CCP: Do you have a favorite state or state you are waiting to open?
AH: Alaska, definitely. There’s something so Lovecraftian about the Alaskan landscape, and coupled with the isolation, it seems like the perfect state for some really unique horror.
Indiana too, since it’s my home state. Indiana is roughly divided into three parts: cities, soybean fields, and corn. My old apartment was actually about fifteen feet from the edge of a corn field, which given the right book at the right time of the evening, led to a lot of sleepless nights.
CCP: Music or no music when writing?
AH: No music. I have to have quiet. I’ve been known to kick the dog out of my office when he snores. I’ve only just recently acquired the ability to write in pubic: in coffee shops, the library, hotel bars, and that’s only because I’ve learned how to tune out the noise. If I have absolutely have to have some kind of white noise, I’ll play a CD of thunderstorm sounds.
CCP: If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would you go and why?
AH: The Bram Stoker Awards Banquet, as a nominee–for obvious reasons.
Barring that, I’d say either the first base camp at Mt. Everest (where I’ve never been) or Santiago de Compostela in Spain (a city so beautiful and with such incredible history that I would happily make it my second home.)
CCP: What was the hardest part about writing your story?
AH: Getting the “feel” of the location without actually having been there. I spent a lot of time looking at maps and photos of the area as it is now, trying to imagine the 1936 boundaries and borders. Fortunately a lot of “urban explorers” had already toured and documented the ruins of the buildings, and they published their photographs online. I owe a big thanks to those recreational trespassers!
CCP: Do you have any writing rituals?
AH: My writing time is pretty limited, so I don’t really have the luxury of doing anything other than just sitting down and writing. One of my former teachers sends an email writing prompt out every morning around 5:30AM, so I usually start the day handwriting a page or so of something based on that prompt. When my toddler goes down for his afternoon nap, I get the bulk of my day’s writing in.
I do all my first drafts long-hand, and transcribe them into the computer at night. When I start the revision process, I print out the draft and attack it with a purple pen. (The pen does have to be purple and I buy them by the case.) I also have a NaNoWriMo hoody I put on for extra psychological support because revising, to me, is something forced on sufferers in the ninth circle of hell, and given the opportunity I’ll find any excuse to get out of it.
Thanks goes out to Amanda Hard for her interview and taking the time to hang out with us. When we first met Hard, her enthusiasm was contagious. Every conversation since has been a pleasure. We consider ourselves lucky to be working with her and her talents. Want to learn more about Amanda Hard? You can follow her thoughts at her website, http://hardwayhorror.blogspot.com/ or keep up with her on Twitter by ollowing @PenOfAmandaHard. We will continue our features so come back and visit often to learn about some talented authors.