Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Interview With J-F Dubeau

CHHR: Please give a brief introduction here.

My name is J-F. Dubeau and I’m a horror writer based in Montreal. Saying I’m a horror writer is a bit like saying I’m a SCUBA diver because I did it once on a vacation. Except, I supposed, that I’ve been invited to write more horror and people have said they enjoyed what I did in that area, where no one’s really commented on my SCUBA diving skills and made no mention of whether I should do more of it. I lean towards what I think is more literary horror or psychological horror, though I certainly don’t shy from flaying a child if I think it’ll add to the story.

CHHR: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

In 2010 I participated in National Novel Writing Month. Everyone wants to have written a novel, but not everyone has a novel in them or has it in them to write one. I wanted to see if I could rise to the challenge of writing fifty thousand words in a month. About mid-way through the month I realized that, not only did I enjoy the process of writing, but it was something I would never be able to stop doing. Whether people read what I put to the page or not was irrelevant. In fact, a lot of what I write doesn’t make it to the public eye, but writing as a creative act would be something that I would do until the day I died. So when I realized that if I was a writer, on a professional level or semi-professional, I’d have more time to write, that’s when it became my goal to earn that title.

CHHR: What does your writing schedule look like? 

I dedicate an unhealthy amount of time to writing. Most of my lunch hours at work will be used to either write or plan and clean up some plotting. When I’m not in the process of editing, I’ll spend at least two to three hours writing in the evening. If I’m in the middle of a new manuscript I will easily double that an write for an equal amount of time on weekends. It’s not that I’m exactly prolific, but I tend to re-write a lot, so a 120 thousand words book will require about 250 thousand words to put together.

CHHR: Do you have any interesting writing rituals? If so, what are they?

Interesting ones? Not really. I like to have music on a loop that suits the mood of what I’m writing. It’ll change as the tone of the book evolves but for a book that tends to stay in the same vibe, I can spend weeks listening to just one song while writing. It creates a sort of trigger that when I hear that song, I’m immediately put in the headspace of the book. This allows me to write for that project regardless of other factors. That’s an important advantage because the more elaborate and complex the ritual and circumstances that allow me to write, the more precious and rare writing becomes. Stripping down the necessary conditions to a minimum is what permits me to write on my desk at work, sitting on the subway, in my office at home, in a coffee shop, etc. Anywhere I can put on music and type at one of my devices.

CHHR: Do you like writing short stories or novels?

I’m more of a novel kind of guy. I tend to get invested in my character thoroughly and want to explore their motivations and personal journeys in detail. Digging my nails into their brains to dig out the pertinent details. Especially since I’ve started writing more horror I find that the better my readers and I understand the characters, the more visceral whatever happens to them becomes. No matter how gory I make a scene, if no one cares about the characters the horror won’t hit. Make the reader care enough about a character and they’ll be affected when they stub their toe. Short stories are so much harder because they rely on an economy of words and descriptions that I haven’t quite mastered yet. I envy short story authors for how efficient they are at crafting their tales.

CHHR: How is the horror scene where you live?

Not excellent. Montreal is great about celebrating Halloween and we certainly have a few things here and there but I’ve had difficulty finding communities that really enjoy horror and horror literature. I have strong opinions about Montreal’s lack of local culture and pride in their local artists. It’s a little disheartening.

CHHR: Do you use outlines or do you go with the flow?

Last StokerCon I advocated about the virtues of plotting and outlines on a panel, but the truth is I’m a little more of a hybrid. I like to plot out up to a point and have a solid grasp of what the elements that are going into a story are going to be, but once I’ve put the pieces on the board, I enjoy watching the game play itself. I have characters, places and scenes I want to hit and there’s usually an end game and character arcs that I want to stick to, but depending on how things evolve, there’s a solid chance I’ll be modifying these details as I go along. And the moment you change one thing, it usually cascades into the rest of the book changing as well.

CHHR: How did publishing your first book or short story change your writing process?

It made more aware of the editing process, especially on the developmental editing side. There are a lot of classic mistakes, like crutch words and pacing, that I didn’t pay enough attention to before going through the meat grinder. Otherwise, apart from reinforcing my commitment to the craft, I don’t think it’s had that much of an impact. I wish I could say it’s taught me to write for the market more and publish more commercially viable stories, but that’s a lesson I’m having a hard time writing.

CHHR: What do you think makes a good horror story? 

It depends on the horror subgenre I’d say. I find that horror works best as a very personal experience. As I mentioned before, if a reader is really invested in the characters and can easily project themselves into the story through these characters, then whatever happens from that point on will have a deeper, more personal impact. That being said, there’s something to be said about a particularly well-crafted gore scene, a disturbing twist at the end or a truly original concept. But all of these work better if the characters are real to the readers.

CHHR: What are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of editing Song of the Sandman, the sequel to A God in the Shed. It’s an interesting challenge to craft a proper sequel in a genre that’s not exactly known for trilogies, yet here we are. I’m also parsing through some beta reader feedback for another project that I’m very passionate about and can’t wait to have rejected by all sorts of agents and publishers.

CHHR: What is in your TBR pile?

An eclectic cocktail of things. I’m currently reading How to be Run Over by a Truck by Katie McKenna. I’m also listening to The First Time she Drowned by Kerry Letter in my quest to familiarize myself more with YA literature, especially YA horror which I find fascinating. Then I have a few documentary books on World War 1 for an upcoming project as well as Mary Roach’s Grunt which I’ve been meaning to read for ages.

Oh, and I got a copy of The Girl with Glass Feet recently that I’m very eager to get into.

CHHR: What is the last book that scared you?

I don’t really get scared by horror novels. I get fascinated instead. The last time I read anything that kept me up I was in my early teens and it was Communion by Whitley Strieber, which is a very dumb book to be scared by.

CHHR: What is your favorite horror book?

Galilee by Clive Barker. Everything about that book is interesting and it very much feeds my love of having interesting characters to explore and observe. It’s also my first introduction into literary horror, which I’ll admit is the most elitist bullshit subgenre name in the world, but at the same time seems to be what I’m attracted to.

CHHR: What is your favorite horror film?

I don’t know if I like any pure horror films. I have a hard time picking between Alien (who doesn’t like a haunted house in space?) and Pan’s Labyrinth, which is really just a symptom of my love for Guillermo Del Toro (who I may or may not have a mix of creative crush and artistic envy towards)

CHHR: What type of music do you listen to? What’s your favorite album?

I listen to just about anything really. As long as I can say: “Huh, this is interesting.” I’ll listen to it. I tend to own a lot of movie tracks because the lack of lyrics makes for good background music. But I own music from Deadmau5, Janelle Monae, Prokofiev, They Might be Giants, Sia, Elvis, etc and the list goes on. I have a deep love affair with Tchaikovsky but if I had to chose an album to listen to until the end of times? I’d end up picking Drink the Sea by Glitch Mob.

CHHR: What is your spirit animal?

Penguin. Though I’ll probably end up dying alone in a house filled with a dozen cats. I take comfort knowing they’ll devour the face of my lifeless corpse after I die.

CHHR: What is your favorite beer?

I don’t drink beer. I wish I did but there’s something about the taste of beer I don’t enjoy. Which sucks because beer is everywhere, refreshing and relatively inexpensive. Meanwhile, I’m all about whiskey and ciders.

CHHR: If you could have a beer with one author, who would it be?

I’m sure you get that a lot but I’d say Neil Gaiman. While I love Clive Barker’s work I don’t know that we’d have a lot to talk about. A lot of the same goes for Stephen King who I feel would just end up being a very cool, but very academic lecture about the industry and his presence in it. Meanwhile, I think I could chill with Mr. Gaiman and just enjoy a nice, long, personable conversation.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about the lack of horror culture and local artist recognition in Montreal. Thank you for contributing to changing that! I loved God in the Shed and cannot wait to read more of you work.
    Great interview, thank you!