Meet the Author: Priscilla Bettis
Good Morning World!
I slept in a bit (aka 7am) , so I’m scrambling a bit this morning but happy to have this special day off.
Okay, so I know I’m a little late with this, but today’s post is 2020’s first author interview! I spent a little extra time trying to come up with better questions to make the experience a bit more fun for the participants.
This time around I’m having a digital chat with Priscilla Bettis, horror writer.
Fun fact, Priscilla and I became friends on WordPress. We have a lot of similar tastes in books and movies, and she’s always surprising me with something great that I’ve never heard of before.
I’ve been looking forward to this interview, so let’s get right into it, shall we?
Priscilla Bettis read her first grownup horror story, The Exorcist, when she was a little kid. (Because, if you think about it, the children’s book The Three Little Pigs is also a horror story.) She snuck the grownup book from her parents’ den. The Exorcist scared Priscilla silly, and she was hooked on the power of the horror genre from that moment on. She blogs about her writing journey at https://priscillabettisauthor.wordpress.com.
Hi Priscilla, thanks so much for stopping by. To keep things interesting, I like to ask my interviewees a random question to get the blood flowing. Here’s yours!
Through an unknown magic you are teleported to the world of a book you’ve recently read. Where have you ended up?
I’ve ended up in Lucien’s neighborhood in Black Heart Boys’ Choir by Curtis Lawson. Run! Just freakin’ run! And if you see a smoky, dark unicorn, say your prayers!
Oh no, all of that sounds terrifying! I hope you’re wearing sneakers! I’ve learned through other fiction that unicorns aren’t always, well … not murderous.
Priscilla and the Writing Process
For starters, tell us a little bit about your writing.
I am a wannabe horror novelist working hard to remove the “un” from unpublished. Zombie tropes, ghosts and ghouls, critters and cryptids . . . I write about all things horror. It’s not so much the subject that ties my stories together but the style. I aim for adult literary horror with an occasional nod to the Gothic. Also, somewhere in each story there has to be a metaphorical light or a nugget of hope.
I hear you there. It took my seven years before I published my first work, and even then it wasn’t what I was working on for the first five years. Writing definitely takes us in intriguing directions, no?
You’re preaching to the choir with horror. I try to have an element of horror in everything I write, and I can’t wait to read some of your work!
What kind of setting do you write/blog in most times?
Because I’ve experimented, I can confidently say I have poor writing ability in coffee shops, on airplanes, and with TV or radio background noise. I need a quiet atmosphere, and I need a visually uncluttered background. A table at our local library is good, so is any empty surface at home.
What I haven’t tried and I’d like to is a writing retreat. Hmm . . . would I be productive or just goof around if I went to a cabin for a weekend?
And this is a weird thing. I need to be warm enough. My fingers get cold easily, and I can’t type with blue, zombie fingers!
I totally agree. If there’s any kind of chatter or noise it completely disrupts my creative writing process. I typically write in my room at my desk or at work way before anyone gets there. Oh, the places we go to write!
I’m sure you probably remember, but I did a self-imposed writing retreat later last year in Branson. While it was pretty productive, the same temptations and distractions are definitely present, especially social media and the temptation to go out and have fun.
I hid my phone away from myself upstairs and still had to schedule certain times of day to write, but I think you could make it a lot of fun while staying productive. I say go for it!
As a writer/blogger, what kind of goals do you set for yourself? How do you achieve them?
I am a goal-setter! I set quarterly goals. That’s a long enough time to think big, but a short enough time to re-evaluate and re-set if needed. My current goal: 30k quality words on my WIP by March 30th.
I have two strategies for achieving goals. One is to score my progress weekly. What went right that I need to keep doing? What went wrong that I need to adjust? The other strategy is to trust the plan. I may not want to do a 15-minute writing sprint before breakfast, but if that’s what I figured out in my plan to fit in an extra 1.5 hours of writing time this week, then I should do it. The great thing about weekly scoring is I can tell pretty soon if that 15 minutes helped or not.
Me too! I keep things weekly, but I do think setting a longer-term goal could help too.
You definitely have this down, and while we don’t always meet our goals, at least setting up an expectation for ourselves pushes us to get that writing done.
What genre is your favorite to write in? Why?
Horror. When I read horror, it gives me the most powerful, visceral reaction compared to other genres. I simply write what I like to read.
Ditto! Anything with a horror, fantasy, or scifi edge I love to read as well as write.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I have a couple of short stories in slush piles in various places, and I have a few practice novels under my belt that I may revisit. My current WIP, Spheksophobia, is a horror novel about wasps with the logline:
In the spring of 1989, a disgraced American entomologist accepts a research position in China. Under the scrutiny of his new comrades, he battles a dangerous local wasp, but in the process, he engineers an even deadlier species that gains sentience and bonds with his disabled son.
Wow, this sounds amazing! I’ve never heard of a story quite like this. I’d love to give this a read, I’m sure it’s riveting!
What first inspired you to start writing?
In sixth grade we had an assignment to write a short book. Mine was In Them Oklahoma Woods. It was a gruesome story. I got an A on the project. Unfortunately, I wasn’t encouraged to pursue writing; in fact, I was discouraged from pursuing writing, so I didn’t return to it until decades later.
Then again, maybe the time away from the keyboard helped me mature as a person and gain life experience so I’d have a more solid platform from which to write.
You know, I actually went through something similar. I wrote a lot as a kid, then moved on to other things. When I was 25 I picked it all back up. I do think there’s something to be said for having life experience to write. If you haven’t experienced anything, how can you be sure your writing is realistic?
If you could give advice to new writers, what would you say?
Don’t publish too soon. I took this advice myself, and I’m glad I did. I finished my first novel in 2018, and I thought I was all that. Following a seasoned author’s advice, I let the novel rest for a few months before going back to edit it with fresh eyes, and I saw how lacking it was. I’m so glad I didn’t edit right away and hit the publish button! Likewise in 2019 with another novel. Now, in 2020, maybe I’ve developed enough as a writer that this year’s novel will be publish-worthy. We’ll see!
I couldn’t agree more. Starting out, I too thought I was the big kahuna, but with advice from other writers and readers, I went through tons of editing cycles and fine-tuned my process and skill level to a place I feel comfortable writing at. It’s not about the speed with which you write, but the quality of the writing itself.
I have high hopes for your writing projects!
What do you think made your blog successful?
I take the time to read and comment on other people’s blogs. It’s more than tit-for-tat, too. I think taking a genuine interest in what others are posting makes a difference.
Oh, definitely. If a post doesn’t intrigue me, I probably won’t look at it. But those that do, I try to at least thank the blogger for posting or put in my two cents. Despite all the views and likes that we’re trying to get on our content, I believe that the connections we make on here are the most important.
When did you first consider yourself a writer/blogger?
When someone said this to me (so I’m saying it to anyone reading this post): If you’ve scribbled out a story, even if it’s hiding under your tee shirts in your dresser drawer, stand tall because you’re a writer. If you’ve uploaded a blog post, even if you have zero views, smile because you’re a blogger.
I really like this positivity! That’s totally true. It’s not about the views or if you’re published. You don’t have to have either to be a writer or blogger.
Describe your writing style.
Accessible literary horror. I don’t have a degree in literature or anything like that. I can’t write artsy-fartsy stuff. But I like a dense, meaty story with three-dimensional characters, so that’s what I aim to write.
Yeah, I’m not formally educated either, though I was always pretty darn good with grammar and spelling. Did I tell you I won a few spelling bees when I was a kid? Yes, I’m a nerd lol. But the best part about writing is that you don’t need a degree to do it.
Three-dimensional characters are needed for sure to keep my interest, and I try to do the same in my works.
Not including family, who supported your efforts to become a published author?
My old swim coach, Rob VanSlyke. He was the first person to think I really could be a writer.
Aww, that’s wonderful! In college, my Music Appreciation teacher asked if I wrote screenplays and said he thought I had a lot of potential. While I didn’t write again for several years after that, I never forgot his faith in my talents.
What would you say is your interesting writing/blogging quirk?
My love of periodic sentence structure.
Interesting! I try to switch up my sentence structure here and there, but it’s definitely something I have to work on.
Where do you get ideas for your stories?
I play the what-if game. I see a solitary shoe on the side of the road and think, “What if that shoe got left behind when an alien snatched the guy?” or I hear a screech from the basement of an empty house (that really happened) and think, “Whose ghost is trapped in the basement and screaming to get out?”
A caution: If you write dark fiction, don’t play the what-if game when you’re driving carpool for the kids’ afterschool activities. You may hear back from the other parents.:-)
Those are some great examples of how you get ideas, especially the basement one, yikes! For me, it’s a mix of things popping into my head suddenly or getting visual or auditory inspiration and going from there.
What do you think makes a good story?
A protagonist with bigger-than-life quirks or qualities who has a false belief about something and must overcome that false belief in order to achieve his or her Big Goal. Oh, and high stakes in case he or she fails.
Couldn’t agree more. So many great, memorable stories are written about deeply-flawed characters with a lot to lose, sometimes even the world!
How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Too long . . . maybe. Since I’ve been reading The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo, she’s making me question what I thought about how I should write. Maybe our best stories emerge when we take our time to explore the story to its fullest.
Hmm, I think this one differs with everybody, though I do agree that no one should rush research or writing in general.
I tend to vacillate between yelling at myself for taking too long to write something out and telling myself to grind to a screeching halt and stop pressuring myself so much. Basically I’m bipolar lol.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I make sure the name is easy to spell, unique from all the other characters (no Bob and Bill, no Emma and Ella), and comes with a good nickname. In my last story the protagonist was Borse, so of course his nickname was Horse.
Oh, I love that, Borse and Horse. So memorable. I’m pretty picky with choosing names. It has to sound a certain way to me or I’m not going to use it. Though it’s kind of hard to explain what I mean, just take it as me being choosy and difficult, haha!
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Oh Lordy, yes! “Priscilla” is hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and hard to remember. But it is me, so I’m sticking with it.
Yeah, I’ve thought about it myself at one point in time, but pretty quickly dismissed it. I mean, Pongratz is pretty darn memorable. Why change it?
Fun Facts About Priscilla
Could you tell us a couple fun facts about you?
I’m a really good swimmer, like really good, like swam-in-college good. Speaking of college, I love college football.
Wow, I’m impressed! I’m actually a pretty bad swimmer and am terrified of natural bodies of water for some reason.
I don’t really follow sports, but I must say that football is definitely the most watchable for me.
What are you reading now?
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo (contains both writing tips and philosophy).
The House on Cold Hill by Peter James (contemporary Gothic)
And this book called Reaper by this guy . . . what’s his name? Oh yeah, Jonathan Pongratz!:-)
I think I may benefit from reading the one by DeSalvo. I rarely take the time to think about my creative process nowadays, so it may be time to revisit.
I’m always down for some chills, and I think The House on Cold Hill is on my tbr, though I’ll have to double check.
Aww, thank you for giving my book a chance! I hope you enjoy it!
I’m reading The Die of Death by Kenneth Andersen right now. I’ll admit, I’ve been very distracted the past two days, but I am enjoying the journey.
Star Wars or Star Trek? OR Doctor Who?
In December we always hang Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who ornaments on our Christmas tree because they’re all worthy, so this is a tough question. I’ll have to go with Star Trek because it’s hard to top Kirk. I mean, the guy once beat up a Klingon bare-fisted. Kirk looks good in a ripped shirt, too.:-)
Yeah, I like all of them as well, though the first one was always Star Trek TNG. I mean, Picard is amazing! Star Wars and Doctor Who I have to be in a more particular mood, but I do love it all. Haha, Kirk can definitely get those punches in for sure!
If you were a tree, what kind would you be and why?
I’d be a pecan tree because when I’m acting nutty it’s because I’m supposed to.
Haha! I’d probably pick one of those tall and thin Evergreen trees, but then again I hate the smell of pine. Lol I guess I’d be a self-hating tree then.
What did you read as a kid? What stuck with you the most?
When I was very young, about second grade: The Boxcar Children series because the kids were on their own and vulnerable. They are cheesy books, but I was scared for the kids!
When I was still sort of young but a better reader: Any adult horror book I could sneak without my parents finding out. The Amityville Horror blew me away because ink on paper managed to frighten me enough that I slept with the covers over my head for a week!
Very interesting. Mine was Animorphs and Goosebumps, though I do have a love for The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice as well from my earlier days. I’m trying to get all of these back on my bookshelves and it’s taking forever!
What has been your most bizarre life experience?
Four days before my dad died, I saw him fly over me, near the ceiling and then through the wall. Sure, it could have been my imagination. (After all, the brain is a powerful thing.) But maybe it was him saying goodbye.
Oh, very bizarre indeed! I’ve actually had some strange spiritual experiences myself.
I was outside talking to someone at night about seven years ago when out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow (not a person, just a shadow standing there watching us). My friend turned his head and said “What the hell is that?” and I was finally grateful that the shadows I’d been seeing my whole life weren’t just in my imagination.
What would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A dragon. How utterly cool it would be to fly and to breathe fire! I was born in the Year of the Dragon . . .
Yeah, nothing can beat a dragon, AND flying around would be super awesome! I’d probably go with a panther, because it’s just a bigger version of my kitty Ajax. They’re sooo majestic!
Alright, last question. If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
It’s okay to like what you like instead of what people say you should like. Argh, how many times was I told hard rock is not ladylike, country music and beer aren’t classy, black towels and dishes aren’t fashionable, and horror stories are only for twisted minds? Younger Self, if these are truly your core likes, honor the way God made you and embrace them because you’ll still like them 10 and 20 years from now!
Totally! I think we are very impressionable in our earlier years, and sometimes it can be hard to be yourself when others you respect tell you a certain thing is wrong.
For me, I would tell myself to never give up and that things would get better. Some of my earlier years were a bit dramatic, and for the longest time I just gave up on pursuing any of my dreams. Definitely glad I’m back on the right track!
That’s a Wrap!
All righty book worms, that wraps up my interview with Priscilla Bettis. I always have a great time chatting it up with her, and I hope you enjoyed the experience too!
If you’d like to learn more about Priscilla and her work, she can be reached at https://priscillabettisauthor.wordpress.com.
Thank you for stopping by, and have a great day!
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