Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today I’m thrilled to spotlight Jessica Guess! Jessica is the author of Cirque Berserk, a new novella from Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series.
Recently, Jessica and I discussed how she got started as a writer as well as her working process and what awesome horror she’s got planned next.
A couple of icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
In my junior year of college, I watched a Ted Talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert and she said, “Why are we afraid to do the thing we feel God put us on this earth to do?” Until then I was trying to be a doctor or a lawyer, you know, really safe career choices my Caribbean parents would approve of. I hated it. The only thing I enjoyed, the thing I felt compelled to do, was write. After I watched that Ted Talk, I decided to go for it. Some of my favorite authors are Stephen Graham Jones, Gillian Flynn, and Marlon James.
Congratulations on the release of Cirque Berserk! What can you share about how this story developed?
I got the idea after watching The Strangers Prey at Night. The way they used 80s music in that movie was immaculate. That night I got the image of a character on roller skates doing something horrible to another character while DeBarge’s Rhythm of the Night played in the background. I asked myself, why are they doing that? Why are they on skates? Where are they? And the story developed from there. Another thing that helped the story develop was that I wanted to see a slasher story with a strong emotional center. A lot of times, slashers are considered shallow, but I wanted something with a heart that was as strong as the hook.
What in particular draws you to the horror genre? Do you remember your first horror film or horror book?
I know this goes against evolutionary instinct, but I like being scared. It’s kind of a rush. When I was younger, I considered it a challenge. Like, if I could watch something scary and not be completely terrified, then I won. That’s where it started, but now I love it because horror is a genre where the stakes are always high, so it feels like it really matters. I don’t remember my first horror film, but I always say it’s either Brides of Dracula or A Nightmare on Elm Street because those are the earliest in my memory. As for books, it’s probably The Girl Who Cried Monster by R.L Stine. I read that one in elementary school and loved it.
I decided to create Black Girl’s Guide to Horror when I finished graduate school and the job search was going terribly. I needed something to take my mind off everything and I wanted to talk about horror movies, so I made a blog and it grew from there. I don’t know if anything is exciting, but there’s a lot that’s been educational. I like learning about all kinds of writing and blogging is its own specific genre. It’s taught me a little about search engine optimization and what audiences like to hear about when it comes to horror.
Your short story, “Mama Tulu,” appeared in Luna Station Quarterly. What was the inspiration for this piece?
Both my parents are from Jamaica and there are always stories about obeah women or obeah men. For clarification, obeah is just what we call voodoo. My mom especially told me some pretty scary stories when I was a kid about obeah women. One day I got this image of a girl walking through some tall grass and bushes in Jamaica. She was on her way to a wooden shack in the middle of the night and I decided to write it. I had to ask why would she be doing this at night? In Jamaica, it’s taboo to go to obeah people. You can be shunned, so it would have to be done in secret and I realized that’s where the girl was headed. The story grew from that.
If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: brainstorming new ideas, working on a first draft, or polishing an almost finished story?
If I had to choose, I’d say brainstorming is my favorite. I love coming up with an idea and plotting it out a bit before I write it. I always have to know who my main characters are and what they want and why they want it before I write anything. That’s my favorite part.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on an erotic horror story and a script about a haunted childhood home. Both of them are in the early stages meaning I’m still getting to know the characters.
Where can we find you online?
Tremendous thanks to Jessica Guess for being part of this week’s author interview series!