Monday, December 6, 2010

A Conversation with Vanessa Morgan

Seems it never rains in Southern California, except when I am working on something related to this book, Drowned Sorrow, in which water plays a leading role. While I read the book, it rained steadily, and last night as I began to work on this interview it suddenly started to rain with a vengeance. Mere coincidence?

Having recently reviewed this eerie, chilling novella by Vanessa Morgan, I'm thrilled to now present an interview with the author.

1) Welcome, Vanessa! Please tell us a bit about your background and the inspiration behind Drowned Sorrow, a supernatural 
thriller. How did you begin your career as an author of horror fiction? 

VM: I’ve always been a horror girl. I’ve been fascinated with everything paranormal and horror since I was just a toddler. I don’t even know where it comes from; I just know it’s been there ever since I was born. I remember coming home from school and going to video stores just to watch the covers in the horror movie section. I could stand there for hours just looking at them and hoping that I could watch them one day. Oh, and I tortured my Barbie dolls and acted out horror stories with them. So amidst all this abnormality, I think it’s normal that I started to write horror fiction.

(In college, a friend and I would throw some of our dolls down the staircase from up above just to see the shocked reaction of the "proper" girls in the dorm. It was great fun to us at the time, and the thought of it now still makes me laugh.)

2) Megan, Jenna, Michael, Nigel, Eva, Kenny, and others are vivid, life-like characters in your book. Are your characters based on real people?

VM: I needed all these different characters because they had to show a clear image of the villagers and what they were capable of. It was difficult to link all of them together without making the story too complicated and without revealing the twist ending. It was important to get to know these people and their feelings, but just not quite well enough so they’d keep some secrets from the reader. Almost everyone in the story pretends; they are sometimes even lying to themselves. They weren’t based on real people though. On the other hand, the character of Jennifer in The Strangers Outside was entirely based on my sister; most of the dialogue and actions are things she actually said and done.

3) I shouldn't forget to mention a very unique character in your story. Water--Moonlight Creek Lake in particular--is also a character of sorts in your book, with the power to change people. Please elaborate a bit about how that evolved.

VM: It’s true when you say that the lake is as a character in Drowned Sorrow. All the characteristics of a character are present: it thinks, moves, kills… it’s the driving force behind the story and the people in it. I didn’t know it was going to be that way in the beginning; this is one of the things that evolved during the rewriting process.

4) Your short story, The Strangers Outside is being (or has been) filmed, and soon Drowned Sorrow will be made into a movie with Alison Carroll, to be directed by Drew Barrymore. I think that must be incredibly exciting! The setting and creepiness of the book set the stage for an unforgettable movie. When were you first contacted about this? Do you appear in any of your films?

VM: I got contacted for the movie adaptation of Drowned Sorrow right after the book got released in 2009. A movie producer had read it and thought that the visuals from Drowned Sorrow would make for a great movie. I have no idea how close they are to filming the movie. It’s a slow process. The Strangers Outside, on the other hand, got adapted at lightning speed because it wasn’t as ambitious in terms of budget. The shooting is now finished and the film is in the editing stage. I’ve seen a few rushes and I’m impatient to see the completed movie. I’ve posted photos of the filming locations on my blog. And, no, I don’t appear in any of my films; I prefer to be discreet. My cat Avalon appeared in The Strangers Outside though.

(Vanessa, please let me know as soon as Drowned Sorrow is released as a movie. Now I want to see The Strangers Outside as well, and find your fabulous feline in the film. I love that it was filmed in Belgium.)

5) Which songs, bands, or music would you like to include on the soundtrack for the film version of Drowned Sorrow?

VM: I love all sorts of music, but I don’t think that Drowned Sorrow is the kind of movie that would benefit from bands and singers. In my opinion, a minimal creepy soundtrack is the best option, something in the vein of The Shining maybe. Alex Corbi, who also made the soundtrack for the film adaptation of my book The Strangers Outside, is the first name on my list when it comes to finding a good composer.

(I also greatly enjoy many types of music, and agree that a minimal creepy soundtrack will be best for the movie.)

6) Who are some of the authors who have influenced your writing? Which horror films have had an influence on your work?

VM: I believe that every author influences my writing in one way or another. Every author has helped me on a subconscious level to determine what I want my books to feel like or what I want to avoid, but I think I’ve been influenced more by horror movies than horror literature, probably because I’ve seen almost every horror movie ever made, even the ones that no one ever heard of.

Some book critics have compared Drowned Sorrow and The Strangers Outside to the work of M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village, The Happening). I believe that Shyamalan and I have a lot in common – the human element that is as important as the horror story, the twist ending, the mystery… Other names that I feel have had an influence on me are Jaume Balaguero, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, John Hancock, David Cronenberg, Ahn Byeong-ki, Hideo Nakata…. Several Spanish and Asian names as you can see. But it’s the same as with books; I think every movie influences me in some way even when I don’t think about them when I write.

7) Do you like being compared to Stephen King?

VM: I have to admit that it has helped my career quite a lot. Stephen King is such a household name that people know immediately what they can expect from my books when they read that I’m the ‘female version of Stephen King’, so I’m certainly not going to complain about it.


You're a highly imaginative writer. Do you brainstorm for ideas? Do you carry around a notebook to jot down ideas? How do you refine your work? How many drafts do you typically write for any particular project? I apologize for all the parts to this question--but I am curious!

VM: Thanks. Coming up with creepy ideas is the easy part of the writing process. The ideas that I jot down in a notebook are almost always general story ideas for a next book. The brainstorming begins once I’m working on a new book, especially in the rewriting phase. I write at least four or five drafts of each book. The basis and structure of the book usually stay more or less the same; rewriting is more about character development and finding imaginative ideas that will turn the story into something special. My first drafts are already suspenseful and creepy, but they lack character development and substance. For Drowned Sorrow I also had to come up with a logical explanation to the story, but I didn’t want to explain the events in an obvious way. I wanted Drowned Sorrow to work on a subliminal level. There are many details and conversations in Drowned Sorrow that may seem irrelevant at first, but they are hints and explanations to what you will find out later. Therefore, I believe that Drowned Sorrow is a book that the reader will enjoy even more the second time around.

(Vanessa, I noticed some of the hints you speak of and am sure I'd enjoy reading your book at least one more time. I imagine I'll want to watch the movie numerous times as well.)

9) Where do you write? What advice do you have for aspiring authors, especially women?

VM: In my former apartment, I used to write at a desk with my guinea pig next to me, but now that I have a notebook and my guinea pig has left me, I write a little bit everywhere depending on my mood – desk, sofa, park, terrace, library, etc.

I don’t think there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to writing and pursuing a career. The best advice that I can give is: don’t give up. Your writing may be really bad in the beginning, you may even not be able to put a sentence together, but if you persist, you can accomplish great things. And also, write what you want to read. Constantly ask yourself: if I were to pick up this book from a bookstore without knowing what to expect, would I be happy with it? What would I want to see in this book that is not there right now? Asking these questions has really helped me in coming up with creepy stories.

Thank you, Vanessa. It was very gracious of you to do this interview for my book blog. You've whetted my appetite for horror fiction and movies. Please keep me posted about the release of Drowned Sorrow as a movie and your future work.

Thanks for reading!  Comments welcomed.


  1. Loved this interview Suko and Vanessa! I think it is probably an honor to be dubbed the female Stephen King, and that alone makes me really curious about reading this book. I think I would probably read the book first and then see the movie version, and by the way, it's awesome that Drew Barrymore will be starring in it. I love her! Great interview! It really had a great flow!

  2. I love Shyamalan's work. My favourite film is The Village. I think I would reallyt enjoy Vanessa's books. Though I am concerned about her Barbie torturing - lol.

  3. Interesting interview and I'm putting Drowned Sorrow on my must read list, sounds really good!
    Natalie :0)

  4. Zibilee, thanks for your comment. Vanessa is a very talented writer. Actually, I found out that Drew Barrymore will be directing the film rather than starring in it.

    Vivienne, I need to watch The Village. It sounds like a classic horror movie.

    Natalie, thanks! :)

  5. What a great interview with some wonderful questions and honest answers. I must confess the comparison with Stephen King does put me off a little bit but I've fallen in love with the cover of The Strangers Outside.

  6. Petty, thanks! Isn't that cover scary?! :)

  7. Nice interview ladies. Drowned Sorrow sounds really good. And how cool that its being made into a film.
    I'm adding this author to my TBR. I'm a fan of this genre.

    I like her advice to writers: 'write what you want to read'. I think that's great.


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