Ashley Franz Holzmann's first collection of horror stories, The Laws of Nature, takes readers on a psychological roller coaster ride. With Holzmann, you never know what to expect. As our Author of the Day, Holzmann chats about human nature, why he feels driven to write and talks about how he wrote The Laws of Nature when his wife was pregnant with their first child.
Please give us a short introduction to what your book, The Laws of Nature, is about.
The Laws of Nature is my first foray into the horror genre. It's a collection of stories that are often psychological, sometimes depressing, and represent who I feel I am becoming as an artist and writer.
If I had to pinpoint an emotion I would like to most instill in the reader, it would be ennui, or maybe just that heavy feeling you get when you just realized the world was more complicated than you thought it was when you were eight years old.
What do the short stories in this collection have in common?
I wrote them all while my wife was pregnant with our first child and I finished the collection after his birth. That plays a huge role in this book, as do most of my natural fears.
I'm afraid of drowning, so there is a story in there about such an experience.
I suppose I'm, at some level, at the center of every story, but I really try to separate myself from the protagonists, even if I'm using themes that I'm familiar with.
What inspired you to publish these short stories?
Something pulls me to be creative. I can't stop. If I go too many days in a row without drawing or writing or working on a project I start to feel empty. Creating things gives my life a deeper sense of being.
Your stories evoke all kinds of emotions - not only horror. Was this intentional?
Yes, absolutely! I very much enjoy what we call the classic slasher sub-genre of horror, but I'm more inspired by the stuff that Hitchcock did, or the works of Poe.
Horror is probably the genre I read the least of, and I think that shows through my work.
Why are you so fascinated by the dark side of human nature?
I'm sometimes labelled as an infinite optimist at work and by people in my life. Looking on the bright side helps me to enjoy the experience of living, and I do my best to live a life worth writing about, as Hemingway would say.
But I'm not so naive as to believe that the world is as irrefutably sunny as I would like for it to be. People let you down. We do horrible things to each other.
Sometimes we do those things and no one ever talks about it. It's just accepted.
I'm fascinated by that. By the reality of our world and the truth behind our actions.
I majored in sociology in college and I've applied that study and an interest in all of behavioral science to most of my life.
There's an interesting theory that holds a lot of weight, based on psychological experiments and studies, called cognitive dissonance. Which is essentially an attempt at defining the hypocrisy of our inner selves.
We so often tell ourselves we believe certain things, but our actions betray us. We justify terrible things, and somehow tell ourselves it's alright just this once to do something we know is wrong.
I could talk about human nature for hours. I suppose this book is me doing that, in a way.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Graphic design has been a hobby of mine for awhile. I designed the cover to this book and I've been designing more book covers for other projects I've been involved in.
I could list a ton of things I'm into, but I don't know if I would label them as skills so much as hobbies. Infinite hobbies.
You were born in Japan and lived in several countries. How did this influence your worldview and your writing?
Being exposed to other cultures for extended periods of time helps to open a person's eyes to the variety of experiences out there in the world.
If you want to travel the world, working for the government is a good way to do it. My parents met while they were in the Air Force, and that's how I grew up overseas.
Those experiences and my continued experiences traveling the world are a part of me. So much so that I could never tell you how any of it specifically has influenced my writing. Really, it's influenced the person I am today.
Hopefully travel has made me more empathetic and I'm able to convey that emotion through my creative works.
Is there anything you're too scared to write about?
There's things I probably won't write about, but simply because it doesn't interest me. I don't think I could come up with a list of any kind.
Whatever I'm working on is what I'm working on.
Your work takes you to some very dark places. Do you ever get nightmares while writing your books?
Dreams are rare for me. I don't sleep enough hours to experience any dreams.
I'm always working on these projects of mine. I start when the kids and my wife go to bed, stay up until I can't anymore, then start the day early.
I haven't slept in in years. The kids and the dogs don't let us!
Even when I get the chance while on a business trip or something, I feel guilty and still wake up early anyways so I can workout or knock out more of a project.
Readers report that your stories leave them emotionally drained - that they never see it coming. How do you pull this off?
My goal is to be honest with myself and try to put as much as I can on a page. I usually write twice the amount of words than what ends up on the page.
I'm also really obsessive with every sentence. To the point that it has taken me years to finish my second project. I hide things in those sentences. I reveal the killer's motivations if it's a murder story, or I hint at the outcome.
Most people won't pick up on that sort of stuff, but it's what pushes me. I love putting depth into a story and slaving over ways to make something feel like it all comes together in the end.
It feels good to know that the readers feel emotionally drained, because that's how I feel when I finish writing one of my stories! I pour my heart into these things.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I already talked about when I write.
The habit I stick to is either complete silence, or I put my headphones on and play a song on repeat.
I'll play the same song for days or weeks while working on a project.
It's such a big part of my creative process that I even talk about it at the end of The Laws of Nature and list the songs that I had on repeat while writing the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Do they have an underlying message?
Honestly? I want them to feel empty, but hopeful.
The last story in the book is the best I could do as far as providing an underlying message. It's called Cold Static and it has really stayed with me.
I hope to turn it into a novel at some point, but I'm not mature enough to give it the justice I think it deserve. I have so much more learning to do in life.
What are you working on right now?
I have a new book titled Vices and Virtues that's coming out on 01 October of this year. So it is coming out this weekend!
It took me three years to get it to the place I wanted it to be. It's a group anthology, and all of the writers that joined me were simply amazing.
Besides that, a poetry book, a children's book, and another group anthology where the stories all interlock into a larger plot.
After that, I think I need to work on a novel. There's a few brewing inside of me.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best place is at asforclass.com! I have links to my social media, a really in-depth About Me page, and a page where I have the countdown clocks for my next projects.
Those countdown clocks are really just for me to motivate myself toward action. It makes me feel like I'm racing against the promises I've made to release things on time.
I totally need that, because if it was up to me I would toil away on projects for ten years.