Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m excited to feature Leo X. Robertson. Leo is the author of the forthcoming Unfortunates and The Glow as well as numerous short stories.
Recently, Leo and I discussed his forthcoming books, his inspiration as an author, and his favorite part of the writing process.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I started writing at 22 because I’d just finished my engineering bachelor degree and I finally had free time to learn about stuff other than humidity calculations and serpentine disinfection tanks. I started writing well by like 27, though this is probably disputable, haha!
Haruki Murakami got me into reading for pleasure at first. These days, Lionel Shriver, Melissa Broder and Curtis Sittenfeld are authors whose every new book I blindly preorder. I just can’t get enough disillusionment!
Your new collection, Unfortunates, is due out later this year from Unnerving. What can you share about the book? How many stories are included in the table of contents, and how did you select which stories to pick?
It’s a collection of 8 horror stories and one novella, taken from my last five years of writing. Inside you’ll find a haunted performance artist, a few serial killers and at least thirty child ghosts. Several stories are previously published, but there’s as much unpublished material too. “Unfortunates” is the name of the title novella, but of course could apply to anyone in a horror story!
It’s a mix of my favourite stories and ones that found prestigious homes. I could’ve made an entire other book out of material I didn’t include. Though I wouldn’t make that book, because it wouldn’t be any good.
That gave me some confidence in the quality of this collection. For like a week.
Your next standalone book, The Glow, is due out in the fall. What was the inspiration behind it?
It’s a sci-fi novella based on two random story ideas I’d written down. One was a title, “The Cult of Plastic Island”—the other would spoil the ending!
To me, the story is about my own sister. Just like Lily, the protagonist of this book, I would easily risk my life attempting to retrieve my sister from a cult that lived on an island of plastic garbage. I hope that love translates to the reader—not like I would consciously know how to make that happen, but somehow through fiction it just does, right?
What is it about the horror genre in particular that appeals to you? Do you remember the first horror story you ever read or the first horror movie you ever saw?
As is true of all horror writers I’m sure, I use the genre to explore the things that scare me. And I find life absolutely terrifying for all sorts of reasons!
In my horror stories, there’s usually an aggressive tone, lots of hostile forces and manipulative people. It reflects my experience of life from horror’s perspective: it’s too much, too fast, and very loud.
I love connecting with readers because I know they can relate. I’d guess that’s why the horror community is the kindest and most encouraging.
My first horror memory is when my brother and sister rented “The Witches.” I was too young to see it, so I went outside with my dad and shone a torch through the window at them to scare them. I remember this because the mere suggestion that a scary movie had played on our TV scared me at that age. And rightly so! “The Witches” is messed up!
Later, I saw that “Tooms” episode of the X-Files and kept expecting to see glowing yellow eyes in every shadow for like a year!
You’ve written both short and long fiction. Do you find that your approach varies depending on the length of the project? Do you prefer writing short fiction or longer works?
Good question! My method is more or less the same—chaos, confusion, doubt etc—but if I have a longer thing with multiple character perspectives, after a general plotting, I will write it one strand at a time. I’ve found that it’s tougher to write a story like that from beginning to end in order. Switching character perspectives is like restarting your imagination over and over.
I like the satisfaction of creating something long, but I also enjoy the confidence of knowing every word has a purpose that I can only really get from short fiction. Unfortunates is about as confident as I can get that a book of mine is worth reading for that very reason.
If forced to choose, what is your favorite part of the writing process: crafting characters, plotting the story, or establishing setting?
I’d never thought of it before, but, characters!
I give all my characters some element of myself. They get into all sorts of messes and I think, “Oh it’s not a big deal, you can move past this”—when I almost never so readily tell myself the same thing. I like devising their internal monologues too, which usually consist of endless unanswerable questions—then I think, “They can’t answer that, no one can! So why do I always expect myself to know the answer?” I end up wanting to be more forgiving towards myself and others. I hope my fiction serves that purpose for others—not that I have any idea what it does.
What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished my second feature film, “Burnt Portraits”! It’s a horror film starring myself and actor Sam Crichton. Sam’s mum mentioned that the basement of her art studio looked like a great set for a horror film, so I wrote one and we went and made it there! It is such a good setting and I look forward to people assuming that we procured all the stuff there for our film, but I just wrote a film around what was in there. So many free props!!
I was thinking recently how literally anyone else, if offered the prospect of making a film with their best friend, would’ve created something fun and silly. But no, I made an extremely ambitious, very intense and harrowing film that questions why anyone bothers doing anything. Because that’s what I do. My only regret in finishing it is that I feel like I could’ve enjoyed the process more. That’s what I’ll do next time.
I’ll get back to rewriting a novel I’ve been working on for ages, hopefully finishing in time to make another film with Sam in the summer, time and COVID allowing. (Sam if you’re reading this, it will be a nicer script and easier, I promise!)
Where can we find you online?
I like getting added on Facebook! That’s usually how I find out what writers are up to and message them about appearing on my podcast:
You can enjoy my Drag Race meme retweets on Twitter:
My blog is here:
I also encourage just about anyone to consider joining the Stavanger Filmmakers Club. I started it here in Norway so I could make stuff with people in person, but I frequently request international voiceover work, and you can appear as a character on a Skype/Zoom call from anywhere in the world, right?
I found my people! Everyone is so nice. A guy even made us this website just because he enjoys doing that?!
Big thanks to Leo X. Robertson for being this week’s featured author!