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Deborah LeBlanc: The HWA President's State of Horror Address

By, Vince A. Liaguno

Although partial to Cajun curses and gypsy rituals, Deborah LeBlanc exudes a warm southern charm that belies the dark subject matter of her work and immediately puts one at ease.  With four novels under her belt and having succeeded Gary Braunbeck as President of the Horror Writers Association in 2006, this ambitious dark scribe has a long history of success in male-dominated businesses, having held executive positions in the oil, transportation, and funeral services industries.  She's now ready to tackle yet another milestone in her career - the launch of what promises to be one of the premiere writers' retreats in the country.

Dark Scribe Magazine caught up with this busy lady in between a hectic schedule of book signings and speaking engagements and putting the finishing touches on the Pen To Press Retreat to discuss her 'morbid curiosity' in all things dark.  

Dark Scribe Magazine: You’re latest novel is Morbid Curiosity. Can you tell us something about the book and the inspiration behind it? Thematically, how is it different from your previous works?

thMorbidCuriosity.jpgDeborah LeBlanc: Morbid Curiosity is about twin girls who get involved in Chaos magic. They think it’ll allow them to control people and events in their lives. What they don’t know is that it can—and will—take over their lives . . . and possibly end them.

I got the idea for Morbid while doing research on shamans for another book. During my research, I kept running across Chaos magic, so much so that I decided to dig into it a little deeper. What I discovered floored me. There are large groups of people out there practicing Chaos, most of them teens, and few seem to really understand what they’re getting into. In the world of magic, Chaos would probably be considered an extreme sport. It usually involves ‘charging’ a sigil, which is supposed to be a symbol of the conjurer’s intention or wish. That ‘charging’ process, more often than not, involves an extreme act, like orgies, self-inflicted pain, or harm…even sacrifice of animals and/or humans. The intensity or nature of the act depends on the size of the wish.

Even more bizarre was the notion that if a sigil created for a large intention, like wishing death on another person, was not summoned properly, it could turn on the conjurer and destroy his or her life. Possibly even kill them. Who couldn’t write a story about that? (laughs)

Thematically, I don’t think Morbid is different than the other stories I’ve written.  All of my books basically involve families and the supernatural. It’s just a different story involving different supernatural elements. Probably the biggest difference between Morbid Curiosity and my other books is that it takes place outside of Louisiana.

Dark Scribe: Who was your favorite Morbid Curiosity character to write and why?

Deborah LeBlanc: My favorite character in Morbid is Buck Thurston. He’s an ornery old fart with a huge, soft heart. It just took a whole novel to convince him of that.

Dark Scribe: Does your Cajun background play a large part in your writing? deborahLeBlanc.jpg

Deborah LeBlanc: I think my Cajun background plays a huge part in my writing. Not only do I use some of the traditions and culture settings in my work, I use the mindset so prevalent in my heritage..."Anything’s possible if you believe and are willing to work hard enough to make it happen.”

Dark Scribe: Your readers may also be surprised to learn that you are also trained as a treateur, a Cajun healer. How has this training influenced your life and work?

Deborah LeBlanc: The reason I trained to be a treateur was to help keep the tradition alive. As our elderly die away, so does the custom of ‘treating.’ Its influence on my life and work is no more nor less than all the other customs I’ve learned since birth. It’s just a part of being Cajun. If anything, treating, especially when I see it work, strengthens my belief in a Higher Being.

Dark Scribe: Philosophical question time: Do you think writers are harmed or helped by genre labels such as mystery writer, horror writer, or romance writer?

Deborah LeBlanc: Philosophically, I’m of the opinion that we pay too much attention to labels. I wish books carried only fiction or non-fiction labels. The cover blurb tells you what the book is about, so readers could use that to determine if they wanted to read it or not. At least the book wouldn’t be prejudged because of a genre label.

To get to the real question, though . . . I think genre labels can hurt or help a writer, depending on the market and the current tastes of readers. My books for example have been called every thing but romance and western. Hardcore horror readers consider my work more supernatural suspense. Not enough blood and guts in them. People who read a lot of fantasy consider my books dark fantasy. And those who read thrillers and suspense novels usually call my work psychological thrillers. Honestly, you can drive yourself nuts if you stay focused on ‘what genre do I fit in and why.’ Our biggest concern and utmost priority should always be to tell the best story possible. If we do that, chances are good that your story/book will transcend all genre labels.

Dark Scribe: Do you ever get scared by your own stories while writing them?

Deborah LeBlanc: Bottom line - no. That’s the problem with working in funeral service, helping in autopsy suites, working crime scenes, and actively ghost hunting for a hobby...in the scare department, what’s left?

Dark Scribe: Which one of your novels would you most like to see adapted for the screen?

th51AWHEARD8L_AA240_.jpgDeborah LeBlanc: Probably Grave Intent. It’s a really fast-paced story with unique characters - funeral directors and gypsies - that I think would work well on the screen.

Dark Scribe: As much as horror has enjoyed resurgence in its popularity of late, there seems to also be a movement away from the label. Many bookstore chains have done away with their dedicated horror sections and publishers are opting for the more generic “thriller” label. Why do you think this is happening? Good or bad for those considered “horror writers”?

Deborah LeBlanc: As far as I’m concerned, I’m glad many of the bookstores did away with their horror sections. Those who still do have horror shelves (all two of them) usually have them in some remote spot in the store - hard to find even if you’re looking for it. The stores that no longer have horror sections place our books in general fiction, where anyone can easily find them. It certainly doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out which method equates to more book sales!

As for the horror label itself, I suspect many publishers are getting away from it simply because of the reaction the word ‘horror’ evokes. When you say horror, most people think blood, guts, and gore - Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc, which, as we know, isn’t always the case - actually it isn’t the case most of the time. However, if a publisher is operating their business under the basic philosophy that a person’s perception is their reality, then they’re wise to change the label to something that creates a more ‘welcoming’ perception.

Dark Scribe: What is the Horror Writer’s Association and why is it important to the survival of the genre?

Deborah LeBlanc: HWA’s primary purpose is to encourage public interest in and the reading of horror and dark fantasy literature. It is also our role to help clarify the definition of horror to the general reading public so they will have a better understanding of the genre and its intent. For our members, the objective is to provide them with professional networking, promotional, and educational opportunities that will help them succeed in this business. In both respects, I consider the organization vital to the survival of the genre.

Dark Scribe: What have you found to be your biggest challenges as President? DeborahLeBlanc1Small1.jpg

Deborah LeBlanc: Normally, the biggest challenge in any leadership role is to create a paradigm shift. Once a group (company, organization, association, etc.) is used to doing things a certain way for a good length of time, a leader, especially a new one, has a tougher job getting the group to see the benefits of change. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case in HWA. Our members want change that will make us a more professional, stronger organization so we can garner the positive attention we need from the publishing industry. If I’ve had any ‘big’ challenge at all, it’s been finding enough volunteers who are willing to do what it takes to get that job done.

Dark Scribe: Lots of ongoing discussion and debate over the association’s annual Stoker Awards and the process itself. What do you see as the biggest issues with trying to administer an awards program like the Stokers?

Deborah LeBlanc: Without question, the biggest issue in administering an awards program is making sure the playing field remains fair at all times. I know the Stoker awards have carried the nickname “Stroker’ for some time. The way the awards process is currently set up, I can see how that perception was formed. Our hope (and goal) is to change that perception and turn the Stokers into a much sought after, coveted award.

Dark Scribe: Many of these discussions and debates take place on Internet message boards. Do you think these venues are overall helpful or hurtful to the HWA, and what advice would you give to people when reading through some of these message board threads?

Deborah LeBlanc: Message boards can be a great educational and networking tool for those just starting off in the writing business - and it can be a nightmare for those same folks as well. My advice to anyone reading through any message board - glean what helps you, ignore what doesn’t.

th51F3N799VNL_AA240_-1.jpgE-v-e-r-y message board has some jerk whose sole purpose in life is to cut down, piss off, and negate anything anyone says because he or she knows better. If you’re new to a board and post a reply to a topic, then get hammered by said jerk, ignore it as though he or she never even posted at all. The more you discuss what he or she said, the greater the chance it will fester into a personal war, thus serving no purpose for anyone but the jerk. Besides, if you’re a writer - what the heck are you doing hanging out on message boards anyway? Go write something!

Dark Scribe: How do you endeavor to minimize or keep the negativity of intra-genre/industry politics at bay?

Deborah LeBlanc: That’s simple. Ignore it. No, really. Look, this genre is small, and if all you focus on is the intra-politics of this small group, you’ll never make a living writing books.

Dark Scribe: What’s next for the HWA? What are some of the upcoming plans for forwarding the association’s mission?

Deborah LeBlanc: Two things we’re actively pursuing that will give our members immediate benefit are our website update and the organizing and structuring of HWA chapters. Our goal is to make our website and HWA chapters more user/public friendly, so both provide valuable information and learning tools to the public (readers and those in the publishing industry) and our members.

Dark Scribe: Back to Deborah LeBlanc, writer. What’s next on the horizon? Can you share any details of your next release with readers?

Deborah LeBlanc: I’m working on two books for 2008. One is called Water Witch, and it’s about a dowser who comes to a small town in Louisiana to help locate two missing children. What she finds, however, is the source of every horrific nightmare that’s invaded the town since the early twentieth century.

The other is called Soul Identity. This one’s about a wannabe shaman who thinks his mission in life is to change the moral fiber of today’s youths. And he plans on doing it by transplanting their souls with souls from the elderly, who he thinks have virtue and solid moral foundations…but he’s wrong on both counts. Dead wrong .

Dark Scribe: How helpful are reviews to you in the overall process of storytelling?

Deborah LeBlanc: In all honesty, I really try to stay away from reviews. They’re too subjective, and a bad one can screw up my writing for days. The problem is I know too many reviewers who don’t even read the books they’re supposedly reviewing. They just change a few words from someone else’s review, and then use it as their own.

Dark Scribe: Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a writer, I would be _______. th51GJHFRA21L_AA240_.jpg

Deborah LeBlanc: If I weren’t a writer, I would be...a person who got eight hours of sleep every night!

Dark Scribe: Finally, tell us about your exciting new venture – the Pen to Press Writers’ Retreat.

Deborah LeBlanc: Our goal is to make Pen to Press a one-stop shop for writers with talent who want to be published. And the retreats are not for the faint of heart - only those serious about writing. Here’s how the Pen to Press Retreats will work:

Interested writers will submit a synopsis of a completed novel along with the first chapter of that novel. From those submissions, 160 participants will be selected. Those participants will then be assigned to a class of 20 and a team instructor. Our instructors are all successfully published authors, many NY Times Best-sellers, and excellent teachers. With this group, they will spend five days working on specifics to improve their manuscript. During and in between classes, they will learn detailed information about characterization, plot, pacing, voice, marketing, pitching, and contract negotiations - all of it geared around their specific work. Agents and editors will be brought in for the last two days of the retreat, and they’ll be there to spend one-on-one time with our participants…writers who now have a polished pitch for a polished work.

The retreats will be held twice a year, one in New Orleans, and the other in Phoenix, Arizona. The dates for 2008 are May 29th through June 2 nd in New Orleans and October 7 th through October 11 th in Phoenix. To get more information on the retreats or to apply, you can visit our website.  


To learn more about Deborah LeBlanc, visit her official author website and MySpace page.

For more information on the Horror Writers Association, visit their website.

Posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2007 at 04:46PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | CommentsPost a Comment

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