Interview with the Mystery Man, Hanson Oak
I had the privilege of talking with Hanson Oak, the mystery man who always scares his followers on Twitter with his creepy stories.
So, Hanson, inquiring minds need to know. Where do you live? Do you have children? Are you allowed to tell them bedtime stories? Are you married and what does your wife thing of your writing?
I live in a small New England town, one of the only places that's ever felt like home. I love the history of it, the old homes and buildings divided by cobblestone streets, generational farms, and unspoiled forests. It is all warm and strangely familiar. If I believed in that sort of thing, I might say I feel I've lived here before, in another life - but I don't, so I won't.
I share this postcard existence with my lovely wife, two young boys, and one old dog.
We read to our children every night and have done so their whole lives. While I do create my tall tales for them, they're nothing too scary. My oldest knows I write "scary stories" and has taken to pretend to write his own. He talks about the monsters in his tales and it fills me with the same pride a football fan father might get watching his son throw a perfect spiral. He has an interest in horror but keeps it age-appropriate (Scary Scooby-Doo and Nightmare Before Christmas are favorites) Meanwhile, while my wife is very supportive of my work, she does not read it when it gets too dark. I wear her dread of my stories as a badge of honor.
Well hopefully, we will all get to read your oldest son's scary stories someday! Do you ever scare yourself or creep yourself out with your writing? Is so, tell us about it. If not, how the hell do you keep from freaking yourself out?
I have yet to creep myself out, though I hope to. I like to see how dark I can get, how strange or disturbing I can create, but so far it hasn't given me nightmares. If I cross that line I know I've reached an important milestone in my writing, which is that I've gone beyond my own perverse comfort zone and ventured to uncharted waters. I would be more excited than anyone to discover what lives out in the abyss of my imagination. I believe the real reason is that while I write about monsters and demons, ghosts and creatures from mythology and folklore, I don't actually believe in any of it - maybe that's why they don't follow me after I've left a writing session, but wait for me to return to them.
That's a relief that you're not being haunted by the ghosts and demons in your stories! Where does this penchant towards darkness come from?
I never started out to write horror, that's just where this journey as a writer lead me. That's not to say I ever wrote anything "light", everything has had a shadow over it. I find it hard to write anything where death isn't a catalyst to the plot. I found early on that my writing could make people feel something, it just so happened that something was fear. After this epiphany, I began to explore how far I could take it.
And, let me just say, you do an excellent job at instilling fear with your writing. What's the first scary movie you remember seeing as a child?
I don't know if it was first, but I clearly remember being in the dark basement of my home as a kid, with my brother playing A Nightmare on Elm Street. It gave me nightmares (maybe terrors is a better description) for a long time. Then, as clearly as I remember watching the movie, I remember coming to understand the nightmares were just dreams, and in dreams I had control. That was the end of the fear and the sleepless nights; finding control.
What's the scariest real-life experience you've ever had?
Not long ago, my youngest son had a health scare. It was sudden, unexpected. There is nothing I've ever experienced more terrifying than not knowing if your child will be okay, if you'll ever hold them again. I've never felt so helpless. Nothing in any movie or book can ever compare to it. Nothing I can ever write will capture that feeling. No cliff hanger here: he is a beautiful, healthy, feral little animal that is destroying my house with his brother - and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I am so thankful he's okay. I agree, nothing would be scarier to me than something happening to one of my children. So, analyze yourself psychologically for a moment please. Why do you enjoy scaring the crap out of your readers? Where does your inspiration come from?
Writers, in general, want their readers to feel, to respond to their words in the way the writer intended. If a reader feels nothing, doesn't connect with our stories or our characters, we've failed. The most powerful emotional reactions people experience are love and fear. Those are also the hardest to write, in my opinion. To get it right, you have to learn to play with the physiological reactions and what causes them. Then you can manipulate that to your advantage as a writer. Knowing fear releases adrenaline, which increases focus, it hooks the reader on a biological and psychological level, grips them and drags them along even when they want to turn away. But the fear is only partly born in the bloodshed. It's anticipation, pacing, foreshadowing, the connection to characters. The atmosphere of a story is just as important as a terrifying antagonist. Use the reader's imagination against them, only describe enough to let them see it in their own mind's eye. Literary horror has an advantage over cinematic horror in that reading allows the reader to magnify what can be. When done right, great horror has readers scare themselves.
You've written many short stories. What's your favorite piece that you've written so far?
I always have a fondness for the most recent work, always thinking it's my best. To that end, They Came from the Sea, They Went to the Stars in the Dark Tides Anthology. It is certainly one of the strangest pieces I've ever written, a departure from what I normally create, but I still feel it represents my style well. However, I felt the same about Black Hen Witch and Mercy Code.
Do you have a novel in the works?
I have a novel in the final stages called, Deepest Shadow, Darkest Night. It is a historical horror piece that is set during the American Civil War. While it's not my first novel, or even my most recent, it is special to me for a variety of reasons including the overall scope and depth. Just researching it took months and taught me things about the war, the reasons behind it, and those involved in it that I never knew. While only a fraction of these revelations actually found a home in the pages, it was a journey as a writer, person, and American I was fortunate to take.
It sounds intriguing. I can't wait to someday be able to read it. Are any of your stories based on real-life events?
I'm sure to some degree a lot of stories/characters are influenced by my travels and experiences, but none more so than Deepest Shadow, Darkest Night which has locations, conflicts, and characters lifted directly from history.
Everyone has fears. What scares you?
I once imagined myself crawling in a pipe that continually gets more narrow the deeper I go. The light begins to dim and I become lodged. I can't move forward or back. No one can hear me calling out, no one is coming to look for me. I struggle, hoping to shake myself free when I hear something in the darkness up ahead. It's coming closer, but it's too dark to see, all I can do is hear it breathing, hear its claws against the side of this pipe. I feel its breath on my face, then it begins to eat me alive, and takes its time doing so. That thought has given me a shiver or two.
I can see why! That sounds absolutely terrifying. A question submitted from Jason Stokes, founder of Gestalt Media. Why are you such a punk?
That question comes from a place as ugly and disorientingly unpleasant as Jason's appearance. Here's a man who looks like cocktail frank rolled in pubic hair with the audacity to burdon the rest of us by using his actual face in pictures. However, I won't lower myself to answer such a childish taunt. Next question.
Thanks for the good laugh! Why do you have such an aversion to the word "panties?" Is there a deep-rooted issue there that you need to discuss?
The writing I enjoy and try to create has a moving, almost rhythmic pacing. I like to play with alliteration and homonyms. I want the reader's inner monologue to sound as smooth and interesting as if Morgan Freeman himself were reading it to them in front of a fire on a cold winter night. To me, including words like that (I can't even bring myself to write it, ha!) would reduce the narration to that of a drunken and belligerent Randy Quaid in front of a Dairy Queen at a highway truck stop. There are just certain words that don't roll off the tongue (literally or figuratively) in a pleasant way, I can't possibly be alone on this, can I?
I think most of us have a word or words that make us cringe. My word is moist. What a nasty word! Blech! So, what's one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I am an eternally optimistic person who loves to laugh and make people happy.
That is surprising! Do you have a full-time job outside of writing? If so, do they know you're a writer and what type of work do you do?
After working in film for years, I turned back to the "civilian" life. I currently work in infection control, but I look forward to returning to full time writing when I grow up. My coworkers are unaware of my previous work in filmmaking or the shadowy stories I pen while I exist among them. That said, it's not a secret. My friends and family are all too aware of my writings.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Are you a plotter or pantser? Where and when do you write? Is there anything you must have when you write (music, a pentagram, black candles)?
I am a pantser to the end. My stories start with a fleeting idea, usually a "what if?" that stays with me for days, whispers to me at night. It takes my attention like a lustful new love. When it gets to the point where it's physically painful to not write it, I know it's ready. My first drafts are often at only 30% of where they grow to when they're complete, leading to long, painful rewrites. But with each pass, it becomes closer to the magic that I felt in the original thought. I've tried outlines but that goes off the rails before the end of the first chapter.
My favorite place to write is on my back deck early in the morning. My deck looks over the woods. It's quiet where I live. No traffic noise, no people noise. Just the woods whispering, the birds chirping. Occasionally, a deer or fox will walk through the yard, unaware I'm there at all, and I can watch them for a few minutes. Finding time to do that is rare, especially during certain seasons. I hope to do it more often, build a covered deck so I can enjoy the view in colder weather as well, but for now, most of my writing is done at night after everyone is asleep. I don't need anything. I used to require a specific room and desk but had to learn to turn on my "creative mind" when I need it. That's not to say that words always come when called, but it does make them easier to find.
Your back deck sounds like the perfect writing spot.
Thank you so much for letting us get to know you better. I look forward to reading your story in Dark Tides and to hopefully someday soon, reading your book.