Meet the Author: Alistair Cross
Hello blogiverse, and welcome to another edition of Meet the Author!
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Alistair Cross, dark fiction author. Horror, the paranormal, mystery, he does it all!
I met this fascinating fellow on my last round of networking on social media, and from there we’ve become friends. That being said, it’s probably no surprise that I wanted to get to know Alistair and his creative process better.
Let’s all welcome Alistair to my little dark corner of the blogiverse and show him lots of love and support!
Alistair Cross grew up on horror novels and scary movies, and by the age of eight, began writing his own stories. First published in 2012, he has since co-authored The Cliffhouse Haunting and Mother with Tamara Thorne and is working on several other projects. His debut solo novel, The Crimson Corset, was an Amazon bestseller. The Midnight Ripper, book 4 in The Vampires of Crimson Cove series is coming in summer of 2022
In collaboration, Thorne and Cross are currently writing several novels, including the next volume in the continuing gothic series, The Ravencrest Saga. Their first novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting, was an immediate bestseller. Together, they hosted the horror-themed radio show Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! which featured such guests as Anne Rice of The Vampire Chronicles, Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and basis of the HBO series True Blood, Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter novels, Jay Bonansinga of The Walking Dead series, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake novels, Peter Atkins, screenwriter of Hellraiser 2, 3, and 4, worldwide bestseller V.C. Andrews, Kim Harrison of the Hollows series, and New York Times best sellers Preston & Child, Christopher Rice, and Christopher Moore.
Currently, Thorne & Cross are hosts of Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre, where listeners can discover all manner of demented delights, unearth terrifying treasures, and explore the unknown.
Social Media Links
Hi Alistair, 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!
Flesh-eating zombies are rampaging across the country. What do you defend yourself with?
Alistair: The corpses of my enemies. What? They were dead when I got here, I swear.
Jonny: Haha, badass! I couldn’t agree more with what did or didn’t happen (I didn’t see anything!). If there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse, then all bets are off, and I’m definitely not going to play nice or fair. I welcome the challenge of undead hordes so long as I get to use stabby things, lots and lots of stabby things.
Alistair and the Writing Process
What is your favorite part of writing?
Alistair: Finding out what happens next. I’ve learned to respect outlines, but I only follow them to an extent. Part of the joy of writing for me is “discovering” the surprises along the way — and I believe in allowing those surprises to happen. I particularly like it when characters take over and guide you in a new, exciting direction. A good example of this is my character, Gretchen VanTreese, from the Vampires of Crimson Cove series. Gretchen was originally intended to be a throwaway — she wasn’t supposed to live long. As soon as I got in her head though, she had other plans. Those plans brought about new concepts I never would have considered and opened new possibilities for the series.
I’ve heard it said that you should keep your characters on a tight leash — that your job as the author is to tell them where to go and what to do — and I vehemently disagree. While I do see the importance of outlining (I do like to have some direction) I think writers often rob themselves of real magic by imposing their own wills on the stories.
Jonny: That’s such a great point. Balance is so crucial to a story, and that includes how much the author holds the reins. I myself am a plotter by nature (aka control freak haha!), but I’ve found with time that sometimes you have to just wing it and see what happens. Your characters can surprise you, and in your case, they lived a bit longer!
It pays to think outside of the box we may put ourselves in.
If you could give advice to new writers, what would you say?
Alistair: Be careful who you take advice from. And yes, I do see the irony of that answer — but it’s true. That would be my advice. There are too many people out there eagerly dispensing advice you don’t need. Every writer’s process is different and it needs to be discovered on their own terms in their own time. When I first started writing, I was bombarded with well-meaning advice. I was told I had to do this, and that I must never do that.
It didn’t help. It confused me. I found my way by doing two things voraciously: Reading and writing. I read (and still read) with a critical eye, taking note of plot, dialogue, setting, pacing, and character development. I took note of the strengths and weaknesses of every book I read and applied what I’d learned to my own writing.
And I wrote every day. Sometimes it was good and sometimes it sucked, but I did it anyway. Even if I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing — I wrote until I found my own voice and figured out how to capitalize on the things I was good at and improve the things I wasn’t. In the end, some of the early advice I was given still applied, but not as much as you’d expect. The majority of it, while well-intentioned, simply didn’t work out for me. I think all writers are fully responsible for blazing their own paths and the only way to do that is to write and write some more.
Jonny: That’s such great advice! Thanks for sharing that with us. I wholeheartedly agree. Writing is a lot like life in general. You have to find your own path and let your experiences guide you. Sure, you can consider some advice here and there (none of us are perfect), but being in tune with yourself and your craft is the most fruitful endeavor I believe.
I fine-tuned my craft for about five years before I started to feel happy about my skills, and the learning process never really ends. The people I met, the books I read (and loved or hated), the day to day writing challenges, all of it helped me better myself and find my voice because I was figuring things out on my terms, no one else’s.
Not including family, who supported your efforts to become a published author?
Alistair: Though I was already published when I met her, it was — and is — my friend and collaborator, Tamara Thorne, who gives me the most support. We work together everyday, alternating between our solo work and our collaborations. Tamara is the first person to see anything I write, the first to tell me whether something works or falls flat. Tamara was (and still is) one of my literary heroes — I grew up reading her books and I feel very lucky to have not only met her and become her friend, but to be able to write with her. It’s an honor and a privilege and I don’t take it for granted.
Jonny: Wow, that’s so great! I’m glad you can depend on one another during your creative processes. I haven’t given much thought to collaborating with other authors until recently. I’m actually working with a friend on an idea. It’s still in the infancy stage, but it’s a lot of fun and I can’t be more honored that they thought of me.
As a writer, what kind of goals do you set for yourself? How do you achieve them?
Alistair: I’m always working on three books simultaneously (a solo novel, a Thorne & Cross standalone, and the next book in the ongoing Thorne & Cross series, The Ravencrest Saga) so balance is everything. The goal is to give two to three hours a day to each project, and an extra few hours on my solo novel on Saturdays. I’ve tried setting word count goals and found it impossible. Some days, it takes 45 minutes to write 1,500 words, and other days, it could take hours to reach that same amount — so that never worked for me. Instead, my goals are time-oriented.
As far as how I achieve those goals, I treat writing like a job — because it is a job. I believe that if you treat your writing like a hobby, everyone else will, too. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to take your writing seriously — and that starts with making time for it every day, no matter what. For me, this is easy, because I love it. Writing is the only activity I’ve ever engaged in that uses every detail of who I am — and it’s the only time in my life I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.
Jonny: Holy moly, you have a lot on your plate! I can’t even fathom working on that many projects at once, so congrats on balancing that out. I used to work with word-oriented goals, but I too have switched to time-oriented goals. I preplan certain windows of time during the week to work on writing, and though I don’t always get much done, it’s what works for me. Weekends I get to wing it a bit more, which I prefer.
You’re preaching to the choir on your approach to writing. If someone’s serious about writing, I believe they simply have to set aside time for it in a consistent way. Sometimes my schedule gets insane, but when I’m in one of those windows of time for writing, the outside world ceases to exist to me.
What do you think makes a good story?
Alistair: For me, it’s all about the characters. If a book is populated with people who interest me enough, I’ll follow them anywhere. That said, I think a “good” story is a combination of elements that strike the right balance. Strong plot, sharp dialogue, good atmosphere, compelling characters, solid pacing, and an intriguing premise. These are all equally important. It’s rare when all of them come together at once, but when they do, it makes for an unforgettable book.
Jonny: Couldn’t have said it better than you did. A lot of different elements go into a good story, but there’s got to be intriguing unique characters, a fun world, great premise, and it’s got to flow smoothly to really stand out. It’s rare for me to find all these elements executed to perfection, but lately I’ve found some real gems in the indie horror realm. All the more reason to keep giving these authors a chance!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Alistair: As a general rule, no, I don’t read my reviews. I was taught early on to write what I love and not to get too caught up in what everyone thinks about it. No matter what you write, some people will love it and some people will hate it, so the way I see it, why bother? If someone says they really liked my book, I’ll feel good and keep writing what I love. If they say they hated my book, I’ll feel bad, but I’ll still keep writing what I love. Either way, the outcome is the same: I’ll keep writing what I love. I wouldn’t know how to write something I didn’t — and I wouldn’t want to — so I’ve never seen the value in worrying too much about reviews.
As for feedback, I prefer to get it from the professionals. My books go through three to four different editors before they hit publication, so there’s no shortage of fixes and suggestions. By the time I’m done with all that, I know I’ve written the best book I could and my only interest is starting the next one.
Jonny: This one’s a toughie. However one deals with reading their reviews or not, as long as it is approached in a constructive healthy manner, that’s what matters. Your system makes a lot of sense, and professional editors definitely put you through a lot of edits and back and forth to make the work greater by the time the work is ready to be published.
I started out reading my reviews vehemently because I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t be doing, but with time I’ve paid less attention to them because I have to trust in my own skills and I also have my own group of editors and test audiences that I know will be bluntly honest with me.
Fun Facts About Alistair
Could you tell us a couple fun facts about you?
Alistair: Honestly, there’s not a lot to tell. I’m pretty much just the boy next door — if you live next door to a freakshow.
Jonny: Haha, you’re not alone! I know I can definitely be an odd individual at times. I’m very opinionated, sometimes brash, yet increasingly introverted as time goes by. The way I see it, there’s really no such thing as normal. We’re all a bunch of freakshows! Let that freak flag fly, my friend!
What’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled to?
Alistair: Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween. The entire region is absolutely beautiful in the fall. It was one of the few places I’ve been where I felt at “home,” so to speak. I was in the area for several weeks and took the time to see all of the old castles and mansions and cemeteries that make it famous. I especially loved going to the House of the Seven Gables and just soaking up the vibes. I took the trip on a whim, having no idea what to expect, and it ended up being the best vacation I’ve ever taken. I’d go there every year if my schedule allowed.
Jonny: Oh my gosh, I’ve always wanted to do that! You’ve definitely got to tell me more sometime. I haven’t been traveling much in the past year, but am trying to get back into the swing of things. My favorites have been Denver and Seattle in the past, but now I prefer more remote locations for a trip. I stayed in a modern treehouse in Easton that was simply amazing. You’ve gotta try it sometime!
Are pineapples on pizza blasphemy or no?
Alistair: I love pineapple on pizza and I don’t care who knows it. I also put ketchup in macaroni and cheese and melt cheddar on Pop-Tarts. I make no apologies for that, either.
Jonny: Oh wow, I’m loving these choices! Very adventurous. Though I haven’t liked it much in the past, I’d give pineapples on pizza another go. Who knows, maybe my taste buds have changed! I’ll have to try the cheese on Pop-Tarts sometime. I’ve never heard of that one before. I hope it goes well with the chocolate fudge or smores flavor!
If you had to choose one type of food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Alistair: Salad. Not the most exciting answer, but I’m a big, big fan of salad. There are a million ways to make it and they’re all awesome. I’d never get tired of it.
Jonny: I actually really enjoy salads. They’re versatile, and it’s a great way to lessen all the carbs I always crave, haha! I love any kind of Asian food. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, anything that falls under that umbrella I frequently crave. But ultimately I’ll eat just about anything. I’m a foodie, through and through.
What are your favorite tv shows and movies?
Alistair: Right now, I’m going through a big Murder, She Wrote/Columbo phase. I alternate between them and I can’t get enough of either. I also love Peaky Blinders, The Walking Dead, and Downton Abbey, and I got a serious kick out of The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window.
As for movies, I’m a big Hitchcock fan — Rear Window being my absolute favorite. I’ve seen The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, The Fog (original), and The Stepford Wives (also original) a hundred times and could easily watch them a hundred more. I love anything with Meryl Streep or Jensen Ackles in it, and cheesy slashers of the 70s and 80s are my comfort food.
Jonny: Oh no, the theme song for Murder She Wrote is already on repeat in my head! Save yourself! No, but seriously, those are some really great choices, especially the Hitchcock and classic horror films.
I’ve been in a summer rut, so other than Umbrella Academy season 3, I’ve been watching nothing but reruns of Schitt’s Creek, Charmed, and anything else I’ve seen a grillion times.
What kind of music touches your soul?
Alistair: In general, it’s rock and roll, and in particular, it’s Stevie Nicks. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a total Stevie fan-boy and have been since discovering her when I was eight years old. That voice, that vibe, I just really, really dig it — and I’ve been very lucky to have seen her perform several times. In fact, at the time of writing this, I’ll be seeing her tomorrow night, which will be my fourth time seeing her (and probably my final because I just don’t love crowds).
Jonny: Rock on! I saw some of your posts on the concert you attended and was so jealous! I’ve always loved Fleetwood Mac and rock in general. I’m a mixed bag. The only no no’s for me is country and bluegrass. That being said, I pretty much just let ambient take the wheel nowadays. I love having a soundtrack in the background, and it’s nice to just feel a soundscape without words.
Who are your favorite writers?
Alistair: That’s a very long list, but at the very top of it would be, without hesitation, Raymond Chandler. I’ve never read another writer who makes every single line sparkle the way he does. I love his wordplay so much I wouldn’t care if he were writing instruction manuals to microwaves — as long as they let him keep that voice, I’d read every word over and over. I’m not just a fan of Raymond Chandler — I’m a student of Raymond Chandler.
That said, there are a lot of other writers I truly love. While Chandler is my main source of word-candy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the authors who have taught, inspired, or simply entertained me. Among them are my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, who’s as good a friend as she is a writer; Dean Koontz, who was one of the authors that made me want to write; Anne Rice, who was a truly great writer and a truly great woman; Agatha Christie, who, without wasting a single word, never fails to trip me up and having me looking left when I should be looking right; Sue Grafton, who has never bored me, not even for a minute; Daphne du Maurier, because Rebecca (and pretty much everything else she ever wrote); Oscar Wilde, who could turn dirt into diamonds; and Stephen King who, of course, is the king for a reason.
I’m also a big fan of Robert McCammon, Anya Seton, Charles Dickens, John Saul, Anne Rivers Siddons, Ian Fleming, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kevin O’Brien, and Ken Follett.
Jonny: No worries at all. I’m glad to have you share some of the writers you love with us. I’ve actually not read most of these authors, but this has definitely given me some food for thought. I’m especially interested to try your partner in crime’s work once I try yours out. In high school I was obsessed with Anne Rice, and one of these days I’m going to reread The Vampire Chronicles in its entirety.
As for me, I look up to Emerald Dodge. Her writing is so smooth, and I adore her Battlecry series (superheroes). It’s one of the best I’ve ever read to be honest. I’m still navigating the realm of indie horror and other genres, but some favorites from recent reads have been David Sodergren, Alex Shvartsman, Tammie Painter, Iseult Murphy, and D. Wallace Peach.
Each one of these individuals bring something special to the table, and I’m just so grateful that they do what they do. They make some seriously amazing stories!
Alistair and HisWorks
Tell us about your newest book.
Alistair: The Midnight Ripper follows the ongoing deadly misadventures of Cade Colter who, aside from his unusual reading tastes, is an ordinary young man save for one detail: a rare genetic disposition that makes him irresistible to vampires. And there are vampires all over the seemingly peaceful tight-knit community of Crimson Cove, California. So far, Cade has come to bloody blows with worst of them, but none so bad as Gretchen VanTreese, a pint-sized undead beauty queen who wears a corset constructed from the bones of her own mother, whom she murdered more than a century ago. Gretchen wants Cade for own dark, perverse reasons, but — for now anyway — she’s lying low, biding her time, and making her plans.
Between waiting for Gretchen to make her next move and the death of his girlfriend at the hands of his own brother (who’s now a vampire), Cade’s in way over his head and has been for a long time. He’s all out of patience with law and order and ready to take matters into his own hands when he meets Father Vincent Scarlotti. Now, it looks like Cade’s luck might finally begin to change. He knows there’s more to the handsome, soft-spoken priest than meets the eye, and when he discovers that Father Vince belongs to a covert organization trained in the assassination of vampires, he does everything in his power to convince the priest to bring him into the fold.
In The Midnight Ripper, Cade gets a break from Gretchen VanTreese and her sinister horde of followers — but not from death and destruction. He and Father Vince are hot on the trail of Michael Ward, a once-peaceful centuries-old vampire who’s recently turned feral and is slashing and slaughtering his way clear to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Michael and his partner-in-crime, Sydney (a born-again Christian-turned-venom-addicted-madwoman whose offenses against humanity make Michael’s look like child’s play) lead Cade and Vince down a treacherous, blood-soaked path into the darkest corners of addiction, prostitution, and murder — and bring them face-to-face with a monster more terrifying than Michael and Sydney combined.
Jonny: Wow, you totally sold me on this! I really sympathize with Cade. That must be awful to be irresistible to the bloodsucking undead. Kinda reminds me of Sookie Stackhouse’s predicament.
Gretchen sounds terrifying. That backstory is scary, especially the bit about the corset. Very cringeworthy!
I hope Cade can stop Michael and Sydney, or at least live to fight another day. Godspeed, brave warrior!
How did you come up with the title for this book?
Alistair: Michael started going off the rails in the last book, The Black Wasp, and his Jack the Ripper-style feeding frenzies earned him the moniker ‘The Midnight Ripper’ among authorities and Crimson Cove locals. I knew I was going to send Cade and Father Vince after him in book 4, so The Midnight Ripper was the perfect title.
Jonny: Oh okay, that makes a lot of sense. It’s a very attractive title for sure! It sounds very ominous and pretty much guarantees some late-night bloody battles.
Do you have a favorite character in your new book? Why are they your favorite?
Alistair: There are a few. I have a soft spot for Denise Dahl, aka, China Doll, a beautiful young Santa Cruz prostitute who ends up on the wrong side of Michael and Sydney. China Doll is one of those characters I found myself wanting to know more about, and if time and space had allowed me, I would have spent more time exploring her. How did she end up where she is? What did she want out of life? Where is her family? What does the tattoo on her hand mean and where did she get it? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn these things and (without giving spoilers) it’s not something I’ll likely get to revisit.
I’m also loving Father Vince. He’s a mysterious fella, that one — even to me. It’s going to be fun getting into his past and finding out who he really is in the next book(s). I have a feeling he has secrets — deep, dark, long-buried ones — and I can’t wait until he lets me in on them.
Finally, I have to mention Cade Colter himself. This is the most fun I’ve had with him, and the most I’ve gotten to know him. I’ve learned more about his past in The Midnight Ripper than in any of the previous books and I love that he’s still surprising me. He’s turned out to be someone I really like spending time with, which — considering the nature of our relationship — is a very good thing.
Jonny: I love how in touch you are with your characters. Especially with a series, there’s a lot of development that happens, and it sounds like they’re really speaking to you. So inspiring! I hope you get to develop these characters to your heart’s content. I’m sure your audiences will enjoy every minute.
What did you find was the hardest part about writing this book?
Alistair: Preparing Cade for vampire combat. In most ways, he’s an ordinary guy (at least he was until he moved to Crimson Cove) and you can’t have your characters just magically become highly-skilled assassins overnight. It’s a process, and a matter of striking the right balance. At this point in the series, I need him to be useful — he can even be pretty good by now — but he can’t be so good that it feels contrived. I can’t have him overshadowing his mentor, nor can I have him standing there picking lint out of his belly-button while Father Vince shakes down the bad guys, so writing The Midnight Ripper was a painstaking lesson in maintaining balance. I was always asking myself if I’d either gone too far or not far enough.
I can understand the temptation to cut these corners, but it really irritates me when characters in books and movies inexplicably sprout amazing abilities — that’s not how life works. I want to make sure Cade really earns his strengths, and so far, he is earning them. I actually feel a little bad for some of the things I’ve put him through, but I think he’ll be okay. He’s a trooper. He’s young and the supernatural world is relatively new to him, so he’s not too sure of his footing yet, but I think he’s determined enough — and angry enough — to become the badass he wants to be. He has a strong, almost obsessive need for justice (with good reason, if you’ve read the previous books) and it’s just going to take a little time for him to find his way.
Jonny: I feel your pain! Character arcs are no laughing matter, and it takes a lot of work to maintain balance. For what it’s worth, it sounds like you’ve got the right idea and that you’re approaching this the right way. Cade actually sounds kind of like Hughie from The Boys if you’re familiar. Best of luck maintaining this awesome arc you’ve got going for Cade!
What kind of research went into writing your book?
Alistair: A trip to Santa Cruz, learning about weapons and various forms of combat, plenty of research on drug addiction, prostitution, and end-of-life caretaking, and lots and lots of brushing up on serial killers — especially Jack the Ripper (Jack the Ripper enthusiasts will find all kinds of shameless Ripper references in this book).
Jonny: Wow, that sounds like quite the journey! I’m a big fan of taking trips for writing. It’s fun to get a change of scenery and see the actual place you’re writing about. I’m sure you got plenty of inspiration in Santa Cruz, and I think your dedication to research will make a big difference in your writing and to all your readers.
What criteria did you use when selecting the cover for your book?
Alistair: I was lucky with this one. The idea came to me fully-formed, I told my designer about it, and he made it into something even better than I’d pictured — as he always does.
Jonny: Don’t you just love it when that happens? That happened for me with Reaper, and it felt so effortless. So glad you’re happy with the cover!
What other projects do you have in store for the world to see in the future? Anything you can share with us?
Alistair: The next Thorne & Cross collaboration, Spite House, will be out later this year. Spite House is a new approach to the classic haunted house story. It involves a power-mad matriarch, angry spirits, a priceless jewel, incest, and a group of eccentric writers who have been hired to white-wash the house’s very seedy history — a delicate and mystifying task if ever there was one.
We’re also gearing up to begin the fifth book in our gothic series, The Ravencrest Saga. Book 4, Shadowland, was released last fall, and we put the series on ice (briefly) in order to devote more time to Spite House, which has turned out to be the most difficult and complicated book we’ve written together so far. By the end of summer, however, we’ll be returning to Ravencrest to explore more of the manor’s very twisted history. The story for Book 5 is one we’ve been wanting to write since the series began.
As for my solo work, I’m in the beginning stages of the next book in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series. The Midnight Ripper resolved a lot of my characters’ problems, but it created even more, so I’m eager to get back to Crimson Cove and find out what heinous new fates await them — and how they’ll get through it.
Finally, outside of writing, Tamara and I release a new episode on our podcast, Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre every month. As authors of the dark genres, we’re always knee-deep in creepy (and sometimes downright vile) new things, and Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre is our way of sharing all the menacing stuff we research with the world. If you like legends and lore, monsters and myths, and hauntings and horror, you’ll be right at home here.
Jonny: Whoa, you are seriously busy! I’m glad your writing is taking you on all of these great adventures and letting you explore new opportunities. All that hard work is gonna pay off, I just know it! Happy to follow your journey as things progress.
Alright, Alistair, it looks like our time here is coming to an end. Before we go, do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events, and special offers?
Alistair: Yes! For book deals, updates, specials, exclusives, and upcoming shows on Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre, sign up for our free monthly newsletter, The Purple Probe, an outrageous newspaper-style periodical that includes interviews, articles, and all the latest gossip in the Thorne & Cross universe.
You can sign up for the Purple Probe (and find all of my social media links) by haunting me at: http://alistaircross.com.
Jonny: Thanks so much for sharing that with us, and thanks again for taking the time to do this with me. I had a wonderful time getting to know you better!
That’s a Wrap!
Alrighty bookworms, that wraps up my interview with Alistair Cross. I had a great time chatting it up with him, and I hope you enjoyed the experience too!
If you’d like to learn more about Alistair and his work, he can be reached at the social media links provided at the beginning of this post.
Thank you for stopping by, and have a great day!