Author Interview with Warren Benedetto

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Warren Benedetto, author of Baby Food in the All Dark Places 3 anthology.


1. How long have you been writing?

I have been a writer for most of my life. I wrote (and illustrated!) my first book when I was 7 years old. It was entitled Johnny and the Jersey Devil—I’m from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, where the Jersey Devil haunts the woods—and I sold it to my dad’s friend at work for 25 cents. It’s horrifying to think about, but that was almost 40 years ago.

2. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Always. I wanted to go to college for writing, but my parents insisted that writers didn’t make any money and I’d never get a job after college. Instead, I went to Cornell and majored in Biology … and still didn’t have a job after college. After bouncing around Hollywood for a few years doing non-writing jobs, I decided to go back to school for screenwriting and got a Master’s degree from USC. After that … still no job. Lots of debt though, so that was cool.

3. How do you develop your plot and characters?

Like many writers, I’m constantly on the lookout for the one perfect technique or framework that is going to finally make writing easy. I have an incredible toolbox of plot and character development tips and tricks that I have compiled over the years … which I completely ignore as I stumble blindly in the dark, hoping I’ll bump into something resembling an idea.

With screenwriting, I typically follow a rigorous process of outlining and note cards before I start writing, since structure is so important for movies. With fiction, I’m much more freeform. I mostly write short stories, so I prefer to work off the seed of an idea—maybe a general sense of the major beats, or the ending I’m working toward—and kind of discover the story and characters along the way. Then, once I have a draft, I’ll go back and rewrite to reinforce those things that emerged organically during the first draft.

If it’s a longer fiction piece, I’ll usually go back after the first draft and create an outline. I do it in a Google Sheet, which allows me to create columns for each character and subplot. Then I color-code that sheet so I can very easily see at a glance where a character goes missing for too long, or where I lose the thread on a subplot. I can also filter the sheet so I can look at each character or subplot in isolation to see if each has their own complete and coherent story, with a beginning, middle, and end. I’ll make adjustments in the outline, adding and deleting scenes until the structure feels right and every character has a fulfilling arc. Then I’ll go back to the narrative to write any new scenes that need to be added and to patch any holes I created by cutting stuff.

4. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

It totally depends. Sometimes, the title comes first. I’ll often hear a phrase or see something and think, “That would make a great title for a story.” For example, this summer I got a title from my wife’s sunblock. The brand was “Wet Skin,” and it was the kid-strength formula. When I read the label, I read it as “Wet Skin Kids.” I thought The Wet Skin Kids would make an incredibly creepy title, so I wrote that down, and eventually it became an incredibly creepy story.

Other times, the title will emerge from a piece of dialogue or narration. I’ll write something and I’ll immediately realize, “Ah, that’s the title of this story.”

If I’m lucky, I’ll find a title that has a double meaning that only reveals itself at the end of the story. My story Baby Food—which appears in DSP’s All Dark Places 3 anthology—is about a couple considering having a baby, so that seems to be the reason for the title. It’s not until the end that you realize that the baby food is actually … well, you’ll have to read the story to find out.

5. What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Derek Sivers wrote an essay (and a book) entitled Hell Yeah or No. The premise is that, whenever you’re trying to decide whether to do something, you should ask yourself whether your answer is “Hell yeah!” If it’s not, you should say no.

Success to me is being able to “Hell yeah!” to as many things as possible, while being able to say no to everything else. It means being able to follow your passion, instead of being mired in obligations.

Every story I write is like trying to solve a puzzle. I know there’s a solution, but I’m not quite sure how to get there. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of “what if I tried it this way?” When I finally crack a story, I get the same sort of rush one might get when solving a Rubik’s Cube for the first time or when beating their high score in Tetris. That’s my first measure of success: did I write a story that I love? If so, that’s a big win for me.

(Only about 20% of the stories that I finish actually hit that mark. Sometimes, writing THE END is more of an act of surrender than a declaration of victory.)

Beyond being personally happy with the story I wrote, obviously any positive feedback from readers is highly rewarding. That can come in the form of sales, positive reviews, a complimentary tweet, or whatever. Every time someone says, “Hey, I like that thing you wrote,” that’s success for me.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I only recently started writing short fiction again after a long hiatus. In the two years since I started back up, I have finished 70 stories totaling about 135,000 words. It’s hard to pick a favorite, because I feel like I’m still learning how to write a great short story, so the shine rubs off pretty quickly even on the ones I initially loved.

At the moment, Baby Food (in DSP’s All Dark Places 3) is at the top of my list, if anything because it’s one of the newer ones and therefore has had the benefit of me learning from all the mistakes I’ve made in the past.

I also quite like my free story The Door Is Open, which was written around the same time as Baby Food.

And, just to contradict myself completely, I’m still pretty fond of the free first story I wrote when came back to short fiction: They Say Crows Can Remember Faces.

7. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

I’m always amazed when I surprise myself while writing. I’ll be happily typing away, and suddenly I’ll write a sentence that completely sends the story in a new direction. And I’ll think, “Wow, I did not see that coming.”

How could I not know? I’m the only one here. The words are flowing from my brain, through my fingers, and into the keyboard. And yet, somewhere along the way, something short-circuits, and my hands type something that my brain wasn’t expecting. It’s crazy. I’m also surprised by how much I know about the art and craft of writing … and how little I’m able to apply it in my own work. I have an academic understanding of story, character, and structure, and I can apply that to analyzing someone else’s work with no problem. But when it comes for me to write my own stories, it all goes out the window. Every time I sit down to write, it’s like I’m a newborn left to fend for itself in the woods, with zero understanding about how the world works. Forget knowing how to write—I’m just lucky I don’t get eaten by wolves.

8. Where do you get your inspiration?

Literally everywhere.

Sometimes, a word or phrase will strike me as being a great title, or a great first line, or a great ending. Sometimes I’ll see a news article with a setting, a situation, or a character that inspires a story. Sometimes, a key image or scene will occur to me, and I’ll build the story around that.

For Baby Food, it started with the line, “Cut it out,” which is what my mother used to say to me when I was misbehaving. It occurred to me that it could also refer to needing to literally cut something out of someone’s body. That was the key moment I started with: a woman saying, “Cut it out,” to her husband. That led me to wonder: what did she want him to cut out, and from where? How did the thing get inside in the first place? Who or what put it there? How horrible of a thing must it be for her to want him to literally cut it out of her body?

For over a year, all I had was that line, the scene it suggested, and those questions.  Months later, I read an article on CNN about a family that was hiking and found a water bottle with the words HELP ME scratched into it. I filed that away as a separate idea to use someday. Months after that, I was considering whether to write a story for an anthology about arthropods. Somehow, all those dots connected, and I realized that the woman saying “cut it out” had been hiking, had found a bottle that said HELP ME, and somehow a giant insect was involved.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

9. Who is your favorite author and why?

Stephen King, obviously. I don’t think there’s any horror writer on Earth who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s who wouldn’t put him at the top of the list.

The first Stephen King book I read was Thinner. When I was twelve years old, I found a copy of the paperback stashed on a top shelf in my mother’s closet. It had a white cover with a bloody red handprint on the front, which I thought was awesome. I asked my mom if I could read it. She said no—it wasn’t appropriate for a kid my age. Well, of course that meant that I had to read it. Every day, I snuck into the closet, swiped the book, read a few pages, then returned it exactly where I had found it. I was hooked.

For the next six years, I read nothing but Stephen King books. There were so many great books already in his catalog— and he was pumping out like six new, cocaine-fueled books a year at that point—so there was no reason to read anything else. I’d occasionally try to read books by other authors, but I was usually bored within a few chapters. Something about King’s writing not only kept my interest, but also fueled my own imagination. Whenever I was reading a King book, I’d find my mind brimming over with story ideas. There are a few other specific books that have made an impact, but I haven’t found the authors’ other works nearly as compelling. Fight Club and The Road are two examples. The House of Sand and Fog is still my favorite non-Stephen-King book.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can find updates on new releases, as well as plenty of free stories, on my website. They can also follow me on Twitter.

Author Interview with Robert Prescott

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview All Dark Places 2 Author Robert Prescott.


1. What inspired you to start writing?

I caught the bug in high school through reading. I read a lot of fantasy and horror, and I was enthralled with the world building and relationships between the characters I was reading about. That led to me writing my own stories, which I’d bring to my creative writing teacher for feedback.

2. What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

Don’t do what I did. After high school I let writing fall by the wayside because of my career and other creative outlets like music. It was only in the last year or so that I rediscovered how much I love telling stories, and now that I’m refocused, I regret the time I lost. Aside from that, I’d say don’t be afraid to submit your work. Be confident in yourself and your story—all they can say is no, right? That doesn’t mean someone else won’t say yes. Lastly, make sure every part of your submission (the story, the body of your e-mail, your author bio) are all fully proofread and professionally presented.

3. How do you handle writer’s block?

How do you come up with the titles to your books? I’ve only written short stories so far, and I usually look for a common theme in the story to help me with the title. In The Cell Block, that theme was obvious since the entire story takes place in the town jail. I did the same thing for another story of mine titled Black Friday.

4. How do you do research for your books?

I’ve mostly used the internet to find what I need. It can be risky due to the loads of misinformation on the web, but if you take your time you can find a lot of good primary and secondary sources for your topic, and even peer reviewed articles if your story contains more technical or scientific aspects.

5. Who is your favorite author and why?

Stephen King. He’s probably the main author who inspired me to write. Any time I’m describing what a character is thinking or feeling during a scene, it’s because I read so much of that in his work.

6. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing I’m either playing guitar (mostly rock and hard rock), gaming (PC, Xbox, or Switch), spending time with my girlfriend, or reading.

7. Favorite artist and favorite song?

Music is a huge part of my life—there are too many artists to pick a favorite! Right now I’ve got “Blood From Above” by Stryper on heavy rotation, and I’ve also been listening to a lot of Metallica, ZZ Top, and Rush.

8. What are you reading now?

I just started re-reading The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.

9. What’s your favorite food?

Italian food, definitely. Manicotti, lasagna, and spaghetti are some of my favorites.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

My Amazon author page, Facebook author page, and lastly, my Instagram author account.

Author Interview with Kris Ashton

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Kris Ashton after his appearance in the Lethal Impact anthology.


  1. What inspired you to start writing?

If it was any one thing, probably Stephen King’s short fiction in Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. But an interest in reading and writing has been an innate part of me as far back as I can remember. I always enjoyed writing fiction and penned my first full-length short story in my early teens.

  1. Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story?

Most of the time an idea hits me almost fully-formed. If I’m convinced it has potential, I roll it around in my head for a few days to work out the characters, detail and finesse the plot, examine everything for problems. Once the way seems clear, I put my head down and go.

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I imagine almost every author has periods where motivation and self-belief are in short supply. Some days you’re an F-18 Hornet streaking across the sky, other days you’re a dung beetle trying to push your manuscript uphill. Those dung beetle days are especially hard while writing a novel. Discouragement comes easily when you still have 40,000 words to go. Keying in changes on each draft of a novel is the least enjoyable part of the process for me.

  1. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

I’m a journalist as well as an author, so few are the days where I’m not hammering away at a keyboard. If I’m at work on a new piece of fiction, I try for a thousand words a day bare minimum. That can take an hour if I’m really blazing or three if my mental state is boggy.

  1. Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I almost died from bacterial meningitis when I was two years old. A night doctor misdiagnosed it as gastroenteritis and I ended up being rushed to hospital the next day. I survived, obviously, but suffered nerve damage that left me with next to no hearing in my left ear.

  1. Where do you get your inspiration?

Reading fiction definitely helps. It stimulates the creative centre of my mind and I’ve had more than a few story ideas arise from a nifty line or image in another writer’s novel. Sometimes inspiration comes from true-life stories I hear from friends and family. Other times I’ll simply be alone with my thoughts when two independent concepts crash into one another, exploding into a new story idea.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

Stephen King in his early years. Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Different Seasonsand his short fiction collections wowed me as a reader and shaped me as a nascent writer. In those days he had the perfect balance between ‘soothing’ narrative voice, thematic weight, and plots packed with verve and energy. His post-1980s stuff didn’t resonate the same way and his 21st century output has been hit-and-miss, in my opinion.

  1. What are you reading now?

I’m making my way through Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875). Like most authors from that period his books require a large investment of time and concentration, but he was a gifted writer with a fine sense of humour.

  1. How do you come up with your book titles?

Some authors agonise over story and book titles, but I’m not one of them. For me it’s simple word association. I distill the story down to its basic elements in my mind and then see what phrases pop up in response. ‘Blood and Light’ in Lethal Impact is a good example. It’s a long story with a lot going on, but ‘Blood’ and ‘Light’ (which act as verbs as well as nouns) came to me almost right away. They sum up the story’s plot and themes on multiple levels.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

On my website at krisashtonwrite.wordpress.com I keep a blog and publish the ‘stories behind my stories’, which are the literary version of making-of documentaries for Hollywood movies. I’m also @KrisAshtonWrite on Twitter because authors are supposed to have a social media presence these days (I don’t have a high regard for social media’s overall effect on society).

Spooky Inspirations

Here are ideas on how to create a spooky novel!

I recommend the following books such as On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing Horror- the collection of essays by the Horror Writers Association, and Writing the Paranormal Novel- Techniques and Exercises by Steven Harper. These books go into real detail about the paranormal. Within this genre, there is more freedom to create what you want whether that be a sparkly vampire, toothy werewolf, or chain rattling ghost.

After you read these books, highlight the advice, and incorporate the advice into your writing. For a good story about a ghoul of choice to be believed, it must be believable and written well. All stories benefit from good writing. Be consistent about the traits, superpowers, or awesome abilities your monster has. We all know vampires hate garlic and sleep in coffins, but maybe a coffin-shaped bookcase could be their nesting habit during the daytime.

Read widely in your chosen genre. That will let you know what has already been written by other authors.

Buy a new set of highlighters, pens, white out, a binder, paper, and a fresh bag of coffee. Do what it takes to make you commit to the writing for the long haul.

Clean your writing/ office space. Light some sage and clean the energy to allow for the creative energies to flow unimpeded. Light a candle or incense. Play music that inspires you as you create your ghoul or axe-wielding maniac. Create a special playlist and soundtrack. Know your monster! Make it consistent and believable.

Keep a routine when you sit down to work on your story.

Reach into the deepest darkest part of your imagination. Free write a scene of confrontation between your protagonist and your monster. Or the monster is the protagonist? These days your demon or ghoul needs to be ORIGINAL. Everything in the paranormal novel has been done … or has it? That part is up to you. It must be original. If you are seeking more inspiration, read the paper. Clip and keep newspaper articles.
For example, I published a short story about pumpkins that can eat people. The vines can extend themselves and the pumpkins were toothy and bloodthirsty. Talk about a real twist on our favorite squashes!

But by allowing yourself to imagine, you may invent something that no one has done before. That is a huge advantage in the field of writing and publishing. Being original and true to your monster is extremely important. The world wants to read a story that has never been written before. They do not want thirty knockoffs of It or The Babaduk.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this. It might spark an idea or two and you would then be on your way to writing a gothic novel like Northanger Abbey or something like the Pit and the Pendulum by Poe.

Good Luck!

Writing Horror Fiction in Today’s World

Horror has a seductive hold on us. Horror is like a tentacle crawling from the crypts of our darkest dreams to suck us into horrific nightmares. Horror, if done properly, casts a dark magic, sending chills down readers’ spines.

Now is the time, now is the hour. In my opinion, horror movies such as Insidious 1-2, The Possession of Hannah Grace, and Sinister aren’t scary enough for me. I am an avid writer of horror fiction and I am well read. I know that in order to give readers or viewers the frights royale, readers should be too afraid to not leave the lights on all night and hide under the covers. And curse the writer because they can’t put the book down.

The writer must make extra effort to horrify jaded readers. There is a difference between horrifying and terrifying. One of the two you experience more deeply. Terror is more effective. I won’t watch The Exorcist which deals with similar themes as the movies mentioned above, but does a much better job. The Exorcist doesn’t turn away from something revolting, it stares it in the eye. It makes you look too, when you don’t want to. -and doesn’t let go. The same is true for Silence of the Lambs. But it doesn’t need to gross readers necessarily just to be scary.

Novels such as Dracula and Frankenstein reflected the time or era in which they were written. In Victorian times, darkly romantic fanged noblemen were scary because the society had different fears and beliefs about death than now. Those fears wouldn’t faze us today. Anne Rice wrote about vampires and made vampires intimidating and sexy again. That is why the novels were successful. Today, writers like Suzanne Collins draw from what they view in the world today. We are more sophisticated now yet desensitized at the same time.

If you are interested in penning a horror novel or short story, I suggest the following tips: Get out of your own comfort zone. Change the environment where you write. Bring your writing pad, coffee, and lurk in a cemetery, visit a haunted location or a morgue, and research the folklore of your hometown. You might create something original, which can be helpful. Getting out of your comfort zone and exploring new things breathes new life into your writing. Here are a few more tips.

Buy a tarot deck to inspire you, read dark poetry of a poet you never heard of until now. Go on a trip to a quiet seaside town that has a paranormal history. Be safe as you explore new eerie cemeteries or towns.

Trust in yourself. If you’re fearful while writing the story, there’s a good chance your reader will be too. Pay attention to your dreams. Often dreams reflect our daily lives and what is hidden in our subconscious. Heed your insights and flashes of inspiration. I penned a dark novel based on a flash of inspiration that I would never have dreamed up otherwise. Learn all you can and be openminded. Then when you have created your villainous monster, you can make him or her or it the main character. Be true to your creation, your own monster. Your readers will recognize the true effort you put in.

We have global communication today. We can see the world events on the Internet. The Internet opened a window into the savage truth that we could be in the grip of an almost impending apocalyptic doom. Now that is scary.

Audiences and readers today have seen everything. A novel can be successful still, but writers must be unabashedly original to truly terrify their readers. Look at what is happening in society. The monsters of yesterday are not the monsters of today. It worked for Stephen King and Thomas Harris and with luck, it can work for you too.