Even if you love the horror genre, you may have never heard of Lisa Morton—despite the fact that she has won a Bram Stoker Award™ and Black Quill Award. But, one look at Lisa’s bibliography, and you’ll be impressed by her long career in writing. Then, if you take a gander at her resume, you’ll understand why she’s highly regarded and respected in the horror writing community. Lisa is a writer’s writer. The one the rest of us look up to.
When we three (Angel, Chris and E) agreed to edit the Deep Cuts anthology together, we found ourselves with numerous decisions to make: title, concept, cover, story selection. Some came hard, with lots of deliberations. Others didn’t require any thought; those being rare. The idea of having Lisa Morton write the introduction to Deep Cuts was more of a telepathic telegraphing amongst we three editors than an out-loud decision. Her writing, her service to the Horror Writers Association, and her strong convictions on women writing horror made her our first and only choice.
So that you could get to know her, we asked Lisa a few questions.
DC: What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your bid to build a successful career?
LM: I think I’d have to say just getting my work considered. Not sold or published, mind you, but just frigging read.
Even now, with years of experience, a boatload of awards and rave reviews, and media appearances in places like The History Channel, there are lots of publishers who hold onto my submissions for years and never read them, until I pull the submissions. My record was two years at one publisher (and that was for a book that went on to win a Bram Stoker Award). It gets really frustrating at times.
DC: What are your thoughts on your experience as a professional, and especially as a woman, in the dark fiction publishing industry?
LM: Overall it’s been wonderful. I came to fiction from screenwriting, and I can’t begin to tell you how much more satisfying this field is (despite the significant drop in the number of zeroes on my checks!). Most horror writers I’ve met—male and female both—are fun, caring, intelligent souls, and I love being in their company.
In terms of being a woman in this genre, well, I can’t say that I’ve personally ever experienced any direct sexism, but then again—I can’t say I haven’t, either (see, for example, my answer to question #1; I always assume these publishers just aren’t interested in me specifically, but who knows?). The fact that it remains even a remote possibility is a little disheartening.
DC: If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?
LM: Oh, no question here: I would’ve started writing prose much earlier than I did. I put the first 15 years of my writing life into screenplays, and although I think it did pay off (by the time I moved into fiction, the films I’d been involved with helped tremendously with making connections), I do wish I’d at least been writing prose at the same time I was writing screenplays.
DC: What advice would you give to others who want to achieve the level of success that you have?
LM: Well, first off, let’s define “level of success.” Personally, I can’t consider myself a success in terms of business—I’ve never had a big enough publishing deal for that. But, I do consider myself artistically successful. I’m particularly proud of my work as a short story writer, and I think you need a confluence of three things to achieve that: luck, talent, and an intense work ethic.
I’m lucky in that I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. I’d much rather write my own work than watch most of the drivel that passes for entertainment on television, so work ethic’s never been hard for me, and I think I have enough talent to get by. Once a story is finished, though, it’s pointless unless someone reads it and buys it, and that’s where a little luck can come in handy. In fact, I wouldn’t mind a little more of that!
DC: Have you ever written anything that surprised you by how disturbing it was?
LM: Yeah, I have. It was a scene in my (still unpublished) first novel in which the heroine was forced to use torture to gain information. It was a strange direction to take her character, and it was disturbing to write, but I still believe it was necessary. Of course, maybe there’s a reason that book remains unpublished.
DC: Tell us about your latest project and what it means to you.
LM: There’s a novella I’m trying to work on that’s very personal and somewhat experimental and really strange. It’s a Halloween story, and the lead character is a Halloween expert named Lisa Morton. This piece gets into a pretty serious examination of the part religion plays in our daily lives, and it’s not a happy resolution. Unfortunately, finding the time to write it has proven extraordinarily difficult over the last year, as I’ve raced to beat simultaneous deadlines on non-fiction books (Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times —just released by McFarland and Co.—and Trick or Treat?: A History of Halloween, coming this October from Reaktion Books). Just last week, I finally knocked down the last non-fiction deadline, though, so once I get caught up again on a few other pieces of writing, I hope to finally wrestle that novella into submission (no pun intended!).
DC: What do you see for the future of publishing?
LM: There’s one other piece of advice I’d like to offer, and I can truthfully say I’ve never seen this one anywhere else, probably because it really applies to older, more experienced writers: we need to be willing to adapt.
Traditional models of publishing are all imploding, and we’re moving into a strange new world of digital publishing, self-publishing, and crowdfunding. A few years ago, I would never have considered offering a novella for free, but earlier this year, I did just that with my book Wild Girls . I made it free on Kindle for three days and garnered more downloads for it in that time than all my other standalone fiction works combined.
Did that move have real payoff for me? Truthfully, I’m not sure. But, I’m still glad I tried it, and I will continue to try new means of getting my books into readers’ hands. Crowdfunding in particular interests me, and I love the idea of publishing by democracy. The people who are interested in a project are the ones who fund it. That’s amazing. I think any author working at or below what used to be known as the mid-list needs to start adapting and seriously thinking about these new means of financing and distribution, or just crawl off into the tar pits and vanish with the other dinosaurs.
Lisa couldn’t be a better fit for our vision for Deep Cuts. We had certain criteria that the anthology needed to meet. The overall concept was to honor women horror writers. We didn’t want it to be a book of reprints, and we didn’t want to exclude men writers, so we came up with the idea of having writers submit original stories with a recommendation for a great horror story by a woman writer. Lisa understands the need to bring conscious gender equity to publishing.
We’re also on Lisa’s side on alternative forms of publishing. Being long time members of the horror writing community, we understand that small press publishers provide an important avenue to publishing for many projects. They provide credibility, marketing and distribution for a work. Small presses, however, aren’t endless fonts of cash. Paying writers is important to us. We decided to use Kickstarter, the pioneer in crowdfunding, to raise the money necessary to do this.
To have Lisa Morton, her experience and vision, on board to write the introduction, takes our vision for Deep Cuts to the next level.