When Christopher Coleman is not writing fiction, you can find him reading, taking his kids to and from various sporting activities or watching horror movies with his wife who shares his affinity for the horror genre. His books will creep you out and leave you scared to turn off the lights and go to sleep. Anika Rising, the fourth book in the Gretel series, is no exception and Coleman tells us all about it.
Please give us a short introduction to what Anika Rising is about.
Anika Rising is the fourth installment in the Gretel series and, as the title suggests, it sees the return of Anika Morgan, Gretel's mother. An ancient terror, one with ties to the earlier books, has emerged in a new land, and Anika and Petr Stenson--Gretel's friend from Book One--must hunt and find the evil before it carries out its plans of revenge on Anika's family, including Hansel and Gretel.
What inspired you to write a Hansel and Gretel themed horror series?
The first point of inspiration from "Hansel and Gretel" is that I believe it's the scariest of all the well-known fairy tales, which makes it an obvious subject for a modern horror re-telling. But the story is also unique in that it involves two distinct villains: the stepmother (and the father, to a certain extent) and the old witch. This leaves a lot of room in which to play with the story and create several different levels of intrigue and terror.
Tell us more about Anika's character. What makes her so special?
Anika is pretty badass. She's been beaten, starved, kidnapped, and poisoned (and that was just in the first book), and despite a terrible sickness that befalls her in Book Two, she never stops searching for the cure. By Book Three, the trials of the earlier books have taken their toll on Anika, and she slowly starts to become the monster she helped defeat in the earlier books. But in Anika Rising, the old Anika is back (sort of), and she's badasser than ever.
Can the books in this series be read as standalones?
I wish I could say you could pick up any of the books and get up to speed with the story, but that's really not the case. There are a lot of references to earlier events that would make it confusing to the reader if he/she picked up say, Hansel, and just started reading. So, to quote Lewis Carrol, "Begin at the beginning."
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I don't know about secret skills, but I was a drummer for ten years in a band that played, what we described as, pop/rock/funk/R&B with a dusting of reggae. Also, and not to brag, my kids tell me my grilled cheese sandwiches are pretty special. I'm just saying.
How do you manage to maintain such a creepy atmosphere throughout your books?
With every scene I write, I always try to keep one phrase at the forefront of my mind: "Think things, not words." This phrase usually helps keep me in the story that I'm trying to tell. So before I write a word, I imagine myself in the scene for a while, and then I decide what would happen that would frighten me, while also making sense in the context of the story. I can always go back and smooth out the sentences and adjust the words, but if I don't get the things right, it won't come off as true.
Do you plot out your novels before you start writing or do some of them just "happen"?
I plot my novels at a pretty high level. I usually just try to envision the destination, and then maybe a couple of the way stations throughout the journey. Otherwise, most of it just unfolds with me asking, "What would he/she do next?"
How do you manage to remain productive? Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
Honestly, the process of writing has always been very difficult for me in that whenever I say I am going to sit and write for, say, the next 4 or 5 hours, it overwhelms me. But I put blocks of time on my calendar and then just commit to those time frames, which vary depending on the day and my schedule. It usually takes me a half an hour or so to get going, and then I usually fall into a rhythm. But that last hour or so is also really hard.
As for word counts, I used to try to hit daily milestones, but it was too much pressure. So now I do weekly word counts, which works much better for me. That way, if I slack off a day, I can still make it up at some other point during the week.
Your work takes you to some very dark places. Do you ever get nightmares while writing your books?
I don't get nightmares from my stories, just my deadlines. But I do sometimes miss my characters when I've been away from them for too long.
In the midst of all of the horror, your books also have heart, with family love and relationships shining through. Why do you take this approach?
I guess for me the family and relationships part of the books are tightly wound together with the horror. It's the love that Gretel and Anika have for their families that motivates everything they do, and, hopefully, the reader feels that emotional strain and it adds to the fear and suspense. Again, I try to put myself in their shoes and think of my own family and what kind of distress would cause me the most emotional pain.
Do reviews and reader feedback shape your work? Or do you feel like it's better to avoid the feedback—both positive and negative—so that it won't interfere with your vision?
I try not to let feedback affect me either way. That's not because I don't think the feedback is valid, many times I believe it is, but if I tried to adjust my writing to fit a plot suggestion or writing style or character trait, I have this great fear that, since it didn't come from me, it would come off as insincere. So I'd rather a reader not like something that I wrote but know that it came from me, than to like it and have it not quite ring true.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What does an average writing day look like for you?
I guess like a lot of writers, my writing doesn't dictate my day, my day dictates my writing. I have a family and school-age kids and a seemingly unending list of things to do, so I carve out my writing time where it fits. As for habits, I do listen to music when I write, and for some reason I can listen to songs with lyrics when I'm writing but not when I'm editing. Then it's only classical. So I adjust my Pandora accordingly. Also, coffee.
Can we expect another book in this series? What are you working on right now?
Book 5 will be coming out, but in between there will be sequels to two other books I've written: They Came with the Snow and The Sighting.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Readers can interact with me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christophercolemanauthor/ or subscribe to my newsletter: http://www.christophercolemanauthor.com/newsletter/