Interviews In The Machine : Amy Cross
I love discovering new authors. In this craft that I have devoted so much of my life to, it is a thrill to find artists out there who are like-minded and to see their approach and their process. My introduction to the work of Amy Cross came via her book, The Farm. I was immediately attracted to the great cover and as it was posted as free at the time, I had no reason not to try it. And when I finally got around to checking it out, I was instantly impressed at the quality of her prose. The story was intriguing and paced perfectly. The characters were sympathetic and dynamic and the book had just the right balance of atmosphere and elements that were more extreme.
I have since gone on to read another eight of her books and this comes nowhere close to touching the gross tonnage of her output. To say that Amy Cross is prolific doesn’t even graze the surface of reality and thanks to her generosity, her books are frequently offered up on Amazon for free or at an incredibly low price. I would encourage you to give her books a try. I have enjoyed pretty much all of what I have read and even the few I was more lukewarm on, I still found plenty to keep me reading.
Next week, we will be running a review of Cross’ duo of books, The Cabin and After The Cabin. In the meantime, we would like to present you with this great interview with the artist herself, Amy Cross in her own words. It was a privilege to have her here to share some thoughts on her work and her approach to art.
MACHINE MEAN : Amy, it’s a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you for taking the time for this. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you found your way to being an author?
AMY CROSS : Hello! Thank you for inviting me. I used to write stories a lot when I was younger, but I never did anything with them. I was always pretty sure that sending samples and covering letters to agents wouldn’t work for me. I was just happy writing. Then, back in 2010, we got a dog. I started taking him for long walks each day, and I began to think more and more about books, and about what I could write. Somehow that resulted in The Last Vampire, which was the first Dark Season book, and things kind of snowballed from there.
MM : What was it that brought you to the horror genre, specifically?
AC : For some reason, horror just seems to be where most of my ideas lead me. I’m not sure what that says about me… I suppose it’s a way of peeling back the surfaces in the world and showing what might be underneath. It’s fun to establish a character and then use horrific events to dig deeper into them and find out who they REALLY are.
MM : You are clearly quite prolific. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of what the process of writing a book is like for you and how long it typically takes?
AC : I try to write 10,000 words every day, six days a week. For a while, I was doing 12,500, but I felt that was getting a little too much, so I scaled back to 10,000. I usually start around 7am and work to midday, then again from 2pm until 5pm. During the lunch break, I take the dog for a walk, and that’s when I figure out any plot problems that might exist.
MM : I’ve noticed that your books often seem to strike a balance between atmospheric horror but also with some more extreme elements. In terms of content, do you set boundaries for yourself or do you just go where the story leads you? And do you have any feelings or thoughts to share regarding the familiar criticism of violence and graphic content often present in horror novels?
AC : In general, I don’t think there should be any limits. If there’s a reason to include something, no matter how horrible it might be, then you should do that. At the same time, each book has its own individual boundaries that I usually try to respect. For example, there’s some very violent and graphic material in ‘The Cabin’ and ‘The Ghost of Molly Holt’, but I knew at the start of ‘The Ash House’ and ‘The Soul Auction’ that they (probably) would not get so nasty. I think it’s only fair to signal to a reader, at the start, roughly what type of book they’re getting. For example, if someone truly doesn’t want to read anything horribly graphic and detailed, it wouldn’t be right to lure them into something that seems more restrained and then ambush them. Obviously you want to surprise the reader, but not to annoy them.
MM : One aspect of the books which I appreciate is how your ghosts frequently seem to reject the standard interpretation as merely vengeful killers. Often, despite being frightening, they seem to be an additional oppositional force to the human monsters of the story, almost secondary protagonists. Was it your intention to take on the sub-genre of supernatural fiction and turn it on its head in this way?
AC : I wasn’t specifically thinking like that, but I do prefer my ghosts to have a little more personality. I often try to think of what it must be like to be a ghost, and why you’d do the things you do. For example, if a ghost is causing doors to slam… Why do that? If I was a ghost, why would I hang around in a house, not showing myself very often but occasionally slamming doors? I like the ghosts to have minds, and logic behind their actions, and to be able to react to what the living characters are doing. Sometimes, the ghosts even learn things!
MM : I’ve been very impressed at the level of organization in your writing and how you are able to take fantastic ideas and ground them in your prose. You seem to excel at bringing a story home and landing it in a place that is clearly laid out for the reader. B&B was one in particular I was impressed with in terms of your work at delivering such organized chaos. Are you a big outliner in your writing? Do you try and think out as much of a story as you can before you start or does it just come as second nature?
AC : I used to outline a lot, but now I just dive straight in. When I started writing B&B, I had no idea who the bandaged lady would be. I think I got about 10,000 words in, and then the idea came. Then that changed the whole tone of the novel, and it ended up being nothing like the original plan. But that’s fine, it’s part of the fun for me as a writer. It wasn’t a very long book, so it wasn’t hard to keep the different elements organized, although I think for that one I had a notebook handy to jot down the basic timelines. Other times, I make bigger changes. With ‘The Soul Auction’, I was originally going to have the whole book set in the present day. Then, once that was written, I decided to go back and add the chapters set in the past, giving a more immediate idea of what happened to the mother. Quite often, I’ll write a book set in the present day and then decide to dive into the past as well.
MM : On any given day, there are usually a number of your books that are available for free on Amazon. Would you say this has been a significant part of your ability to find new readers?
AC : I don’t run ads, so giving away free books is really my only way to reach new readers. It’s much easier to use that method when you have lots of books. I sometimes try tweaking the way I do things, but generally I don’t spend too much time thinking about marketing.
MM : Do you have any other passions, besides writing?
AC : Apart from walking the dog? Lately I’ve been getting really interested in English history, particularly post-1066 and leading up to the Tudors. So I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction books about the Plantagenets, the various Henrys and Edwards and so on. It’s fun seeing how things link together, even over several centuries. Plus, I’ll hopefully be more useful at the pub quiz team I’m part of. So I suppose you could say my passions are walking the dog and reading books about history.
MM : It has been said that publishing anymore is like tossing a drop of water into a lake and hoping it is noticed before all the other drops of water. With literally millions of books out there online, and more added every day, what advice might you have for up and coming authors who are trying to strike out into this field and be noticed?
AC : I’m always wary of giving advice, because I think that what works for me is not necessarily something that would work for other people. Maybe the only advice I would be is to limit the amount of time you spend searching for advice. Obviously it’s very beneficial from time to time to have input from other people, but at the end of the day you still have to sit down and type the words. So my advice would be to ignore advice, including the advice I’ve just given. Does that help?
MM : Finally, do you have anything coming up that you would like to draw our readers’ attention to?
AC : I’m exactly halfway through an eight-part series called ‘The House of Jack the Ripper’. It’s a proper serial, not just a chopped-up book, and each part is roughly 200 pages. I’m working on that non-stop, with the aim being to have all eight out by the middle of October. I really like writing serials, especially cliffhangers, and now (as of the end of part four) I know exactly how the story ends, so I have something to aim for. Although the ending might change if I come up with something I like more. After that, I have a couple of standalone novels before finally releasing the sequel to ‘The Devil, the Witch and the Whore’, which I’ve been promising for a long time and have woefully failed to deliver.