Q: Author, scholar, actor, and jack of all trades – Today we have Samuel Thomas Fraser able to sit down for an interview! Sam, if you can, tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know!
A: Okay, so this is kind of a weird one, but I’ve actually built up a modest collection of different editions and translations of the Old English poem Beowulf. This wasn’t even on purpose; I’ve just studied the poem a lot at university, and I never get rid of textbooks! I’ve got a bunch of the standard student editions like Frederick Klaeber, George Jack, and R.D. Fulk, but also some more experimental translations by folks like Thomas Meyer and Meghan Purvis. I think I’ve even got a recording somewhere of Seamus Heaney reading his translation, so that’s pretty cool!
Q: Your latest book was released a couple of months ago and is titled The Nowhere House. This is the second book in The Abby Normal Series. Can you give an overall introduction to the series?
A: Sure! The Abby Normal Series is a dark urban fantasy series set in my home province of British Columbia, Canada. The main character is Abby Henderson (who goes by Abby Normal online), and in the first book she learns that she’s the last in a long line of psychics and telepaths called The Gospels. She can read minds, talk to ghosts, predict the future, all that stuff. But a lot of the futures that she sees are really bad news, and since she’s the only one who can see them before they happen, she kind of feels like it’s her responsibility to keep them from happening. So, she’s out there trying to keep people safe from all kinds of supernatural threats, like demons and warlocks and psychotic faeries and that kind of thing!
Q: As to The Nowhere House itself, what can you tell us about it without including any major spoilers for the first novel?
A: I like to call The Nowhere House “a haunted-house murder mystery.” Hopefully that should tell you everything you need to know! But if you want more, here goes: at the start of the book, Abby’s having all kinds of psychic visions and prophetic dreams about this weird old house in a small town a long way off from Vancouver. And during one of these dreams, she sees a kid in the house, and she realizes that this kid is an actual living, breathing human who’s having the exact same dream that she’s having at the exact same moment. And that’s all kinds of strange, so she’s just got to go and investigate! But at the same time as all this stuff is going on with this house and this kid, the cops in this small town are looking for a serial killer, and it just so happens that the killer is using magic to commit their crimes. And it all kind of spirals from there as Abby has to figure out what’s going on with this haunted house, why this kid was in her dream, and how this magical serial killer is connected to all of it. I’ve never really written a mystery like this before, so it’s been an interesting experiment trying to juggle all these interweaving plot threads and make it all come together!
Q: As there are two books in this series out now, is there potentially a third on the horizon, or will you be switching gears with something new before thinking about furthering this series?
A: Kind of both, actually! I had to take a leave of absence from school this semester, and so I’ve been keeping my brain busy by just writing and writing. I’m making decent progress on the third book in The Abby Normal Series, but I’m also drafting a historical fantasy story set during the Golden Age of Piracy. I’m trying to figure them both out at the same time, so it’s anybody’s guess which one I’ll finish first!
Q: You’ve had both short stories and poetry published in a large variety of outlets. Which story and poem are you most proud of and where can we find them?
A: Great question! For short stories, I’d have to say my favourite is a piece I did for Scare Street’s Night Terrors anthology series. It’s called “I Just Write the Damned Thing,” and it’s about a successful thriller author who’s grown tired of his success and decides it’s time to kill off his most popular villain character. The problem is, the character doesn’t want to leave the story yet, and he’s going to do everything he has to in order to survive! I took a lot of inspiration from things like the video game Alan Wake and Stephen King’s book The Dark Half when I wrote “Damned Thing,” and I’ve even had a couple of ideas about how I could expand it into a novel!
To the second part of your question: I don’t write as much poetry as I do prose, but I think my favourite poem I’ve done is one called “The Yellow Hunt,” which was published in the first (and so far as I can tell, only) issue of a journal called The Macabre Museum. For that one, I borrowed a lot of imagery from old folktales about the Wild Hunt and Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow, threw it all in a blender, and wrote something in the style of an eighteenth-century ballad. I never would have imagined I could pull that off when I first started as a writer!
Q: What is your favorite sub-genre of horror and why?
A: Where movies and literature are concerned, I really dig psychological horror. If the characters or the audience are starting to question their very senses by the time the story ends, I am always, always down for that. Mark Danielewski does this brilliantly in his book House of Leaves, for example. I also find that there’s a really powerful psychological element to a lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing. He was really able to tap into that dread that comes from unknowing and uncertainty, that worry that what you think you’re seeing might not actually be what’s going on. A lot of adaptations or pastiches of Lovecraft’s work really fall short because they don’t understand the importance of that psychological element, that altering of perception, in horror, but the few that do (and here I’m thinking of works like FromSoftware’s Bloodborne or John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness) are genuinely spectacular.
In the last couple of years (and especially since the start of the pandemic), I’m also discovering a new love for survival horror video games. Stuff like the original BioShock or the recent remakes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 (and okay, yeah, Bloodborne again, as well) really grips me. As with psychological horror in literature and TV/movies, I think survival horror in video games can do an amazing job of capitalizing on the sensation of not knowing in order to scare the hell out of the audience. When is a zombie going to break through that one window in the Raccoon City police station? Which of the statues in Fort Frolic are actually statues, and which are Splicers waiting to attack the player with meat hooks?
Sorry for the long answer, but if you ask a guy with an English degree for his opinions on genre, then by Jove you’re going to get his opinions!
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A: I’ve spent basically all my life so far in and around the city of Vancouver, BC. The most important and obvious way in which that has affected my writing is that my home province serves as the main setting for The Abby Normal Series. I’m always slipping little references to local geography into the books or trying to figure out which part of the city would be the right fit for a particular scene, based on the tone of the scene and my emotional connection to or sense-memory of Vancouver.
Just as one example, and I’ll try to be vague, I was recently writing a scene for the third book where I had a character forced into a bargain with a supernatural creature associated with the season of winter. I wanted a cold and bleak, rock-and-a-hard-place kind of backdrop for that scene, so I chose the campus of my old university! It’s Brutalist architecture done all in concrete and sitting at the top of a mountain. I’ve been up there in the dead of winter, and it’s seriously like a Siberian gulag sometimes. (No offence to anyone from the SFU community who may happen across this interview!)
Q: You’re also an actor, what can you share about that part of your life, and has that had any effect on your writing?
A: Oh, I am so glad you asked me that! Yeah, before Covid hit, I was involved in quite a bit of local theatre around town, and over the years I’ve done plenty of background work for the many film and TV productions that are always shooting around here. I’ve done some great shows like The Music Man and The Importance of Being Earnest, but none of those have had a huge impact on me as a writer.
The one show that DID impact me as a writer was way, way back in high school. I was a drama geek (big shock), and the drama department at my high school had a playwriting award that rarely got awarded because nobody at my school bothered to write plays. I had a few ideas kicking around, so a close friend and I sat down and wrote basically a one-act farce called “A Cheeky Chateaubriand and a Dead Raccoon,” in which I gave myself the lead role (don’t be afraid to write your own starring vehicles, fellow performers!), and which we presented in the school theatre toward the end of our final year. We spent almost a year on this show, through all the writing and rewriting, getting a cast together, running rehearsals at lunchtime, and everything else. We sold tickets to friends and family, packed the theatre, and absolutely brought the house down.
At the same time, my co-writer and I were both in a Creative Writing class in that Grade 12 year, and our teacher had seen how much work we had put into this play, so he was gracious enough to allow us to submit the script as a joint final project. All around, our work received an amazing response, and it was the success of that play that really made me believe I had what it took to be a serious writer.
Q: Stalking your social feeds there seems to be a slew of geeky references from Lego to MST3K and beyond. What are your favorite 3 pieces of geeky pop culture?
A: Ooh boy. Only three, huh? Well, my first answer is going to be Batman. I’ve been a huge Batman fan ever since I was a kid, when the old Justice League cartoon was on TV in the early 2000s. And then Chris Nolan came a-knockin’ with the Dark Knight trilogy a few years later, and then there were the Arkham Games not long after that.
I think Doctor Who is probably second. I’ve fallen off the show a bit in the last year or so, but I truly admire it for always embracing themes of optimism and kindness even in the face of overwhelming cruelty and seeming hopelessness. That’s a message that I notice slips into my own writing quite often: it is best to be kind and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. I think Doctor Who has had a major impact on my and many of my characters’ morality.
And the third is one that you’ve mentioned already: Lego. I’m on the autism spectrum, so unexpected or random occurrences can be quite stressful for me sometimes. I like patterns, structure, and predictability. Failing that, I like to be able to control the chaos and set the rules myself (which is why I enjoy writing so much). Lego offers the best of both worlds. It offers a very clear system with many predictable and easily repeatable patterns and/or rules (if, say, you want to follow the instructions and build a set exactly as it appears on the box). But at the same time, if you want to throw out the rules and design something that no Lego set designer has ever imagined, the tools are there to do that. You can un-learn the patterns and re-write the rules and combine parts in many new ways. I’ve got an absolutely massive Lego collection at home, and while a lot of that consists of sets straight out of the box, there are some models I’ve designed from scratch that I’m really proud of.
Q: If you were to write with any living author, who would it be, why, and what would you want to write about with them?
A: I really had to rack my brains on this one, but I think I’m going to throw some love toward the indie scene here. For the last year and a bit, I’ve really been enjoying the work of an author named Richard Gleaves, who wrote a series about the last living descendant of Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” fighting the actual, honest-to-God ghost of the Headless Horseman in the actual, modern-day Sleepy Hollow. I love the way Gleaves writes characters, and he has an amazing knack for recapturing the essence and atmosphere of older Gothic fiction and translating it into a modern setting. That’s a windmill I’ve tilted at once or twice myself, and I think it’d be great fun to sit down with him and try to bring a Gothic author like Poe or Ambrose Bierce into the modern world together.
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