Welcome to my first ever author Q&A! I hope this will get to be a regular occurrence because I had so much fun with this! How could I not, when the author to pop my Q&A cherry was the totally amazing Ariana D. Den Bleyker. To be completely honest, a few months ago I hadn’t even heard of Ariana. But then came #Fahrenbruary, and I stumbled over Ariana’s latest novel Red Hands on Twitter, and the rest, as they say, is history, a done deal, I was sold, Ariana had done my head in, in the best possible way. So when the occasion arose to do an interview with her, I completely flipped out for a minute there (I lowly newbie blogger could never be worthy of such a task!) but then I got my act together and set out to find all there is to know about Ariana and her first novella Dark Water. This was not a solo flight, mind! I embarked on this quest together with the lovely Danielle, who will be posting another set of thrilling Q&As on The Reading Closet on Saturday, so stay tuned for that, since they will be talking about Red Hands, footwear, pets and Quality Street chocolates! Not to be missed! Danielle will also post a review of Dark Water tomorrow. And if you haven’t already, then please check out Matt’s review of Red Hands here and also Ariana’s guest post on Matt’s blog here. It’s great stuff!
Alright, let’s get down to business! First of all, this is Ariana:
Hi Ariana! Since this is my first time, let’s take things slow and start with an easy question! Say we were doing this Q&A in real life, where would you take me? Would we go for coffee, would we grab a bite to eat, where would we go, and why?
Lake Wallenpaupack, a decent sized lake located in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, about an hour drive from where I live in New York. I spend every weekend from late April to late October there in addition to the entire summer with my children in a camper in a campground that abuts the lake. While there I would take you to all the places I write: on a rock next to the lake, on the bow of my boat in the middle of the lake while my husband fishes and my children swim, but most importantly, next to the campfire at night with a perfect starlit sky where I write by both fire light and lantern light. At the end of the night, I would make you a S’more, a quintessential American camping delight consisting of a roasted marshmallow and piece of Hershey’s chocolate sandwiched by graham crackers, to highlight all things sweet I find in the outdoors that fuel my writing.
That sounds kinda perfect, to be honest! I’ve never had S’mores, but I would LOVE to try them. While we’re on the subject of food, help me settle a question I was discussing with Mart (The Beardy Book Blogger) and Danielle (The Reading Closet) the other day: are scones a thing in the States, do Americans eat scones? And if you were to order one, would you ask for a scone (rhymes with gone) or a scone (rhymes with stone)? Now, while this may seem a silly question, it is of the utmost importance since Danielle has decreed that one who does not pronounce it correctly, cannot rule the world. (The correct way being our way, obviously)
Yes, scones are a thing in the States; and, yes, we do pronounce it as it rhymes with stone. (Silently places her would-be crown on the ground next to her bare feet.) I’m absolutely in love with the orange scones Panera Bread sells.
You plant that crown firmly on your head, Ariana! There is only one way to pronounce the word scone, and it is indeed your way! But I’m starting to get hungry and there’s not a scone in sight, so let’s move on! So, have you always been writing and was becoming an author like your childhood dream?
I’ve always written since I was relatively young as a means of escape from a life that I’d otherwise not wanted to be a part of if it weren’t for the fact that I was a child. I wrote a lot of bad poetry, mystery short stories about magical rose gardens, and letters to pen pals. I didn’t really know at the time I wanted to write seriously until I got older, more specifically, in my Junior year in high school where I spent most of my daydreaming moments when I wasn’t writing academic papers writing more serious poetry. I think it’s safe to say I’ve always been more of a poet than a prose writer.
I too tried my hand at writing poetry back in the day, but eventually I thought it best for all concerned to quit! I have to admit I haven’t read any of your poems yet, I never read poetry, but you’ve made me curious now! What about you, are you a reader? What are your favourite genres? Is there an author you admire, a favourite novel perhaps?
Yes, I’m an avid reader. I think I read more in the summer than other times of the year because my children’s extra-curricular activities consume my time during the school year. I would say I read a fair share of poetry, but my ultimate love are psychological thrillers, of whom I think Dean Koontz is a master, though there are many other authors out there that whet my appetite, a lot of whom are my press mates at Fahrenheit. I try to make a point of ordering Fahrenheit titles whenever I have the means to not only support the authors but the press. But, if I had to pick a favorite novel, it would be difficult to choose from something literary over something genre, so I’ll stick with genre for this interview. Dean Koontz’s Intensity is the novel that stands out to me as being the most influential in my own work because both its psychopathic protagonist and plot scare the hell out of me every time, I read it.
I have a whole stack of Koontz books, but I haven’t got Intensity, adding it to the wishlist now! But tell me, as a writer, what does your writing process look like? Do you have a regime you try to adhere to, certain habits to get the words flowing, a writing cave, a favourite drink?
My writing process is a hot mess. I think up until the current manuscript I’m writing I’ve had no real coherent means to which I’ve diagrammed a plot or devised characters, and even still, the other day when I was working on the manuscript, I came to the painful realization Chapter 9 should really be Chapter 1, and it kind of brought me to a standstill in terms of how I’d proceed and/or re-write Chapters 2-8 since Chapters 10-18 had already been written. Both Dark Water and Red Hands were almost written as short stories or sections fit together as they overlapped each other and then flushed out at the end. The hardest part about my process, is I write everything in a 5 x 8 elastic bound journal I carry with me everywhere. It’s hard to type everything up in the end, and I’ve really sort of abandoned it with this new manuscript because torture is one thing I can only bear doing to my characters but not myself. As to what gets my words flowing: music.
Oh so you listened to music while writing Dark Water? A specific genre, or a specific band?
I certainly listen to music most of the time, especially when I write. I listen to a gambit of genres, but when I’m writing noir, I listen mostly to heavy metal or heavy alternative.
And if you had to pick a title song for Dark Water?
Pompeii by Bastille.
Wow, okay, not what I expected! I had more of a Marilyn Manson theme in mind and Pompeii seems very… upbeat, as a title song for a noir novel.
You make an interesting point. I’m very much inebriated by music in general, but I’m particularly drawn to lyrics and meaningful interpretations. Pompeii is interesting in the fact that it is upbeat and that it doesn’t include the title in the lyrics. When you infer the history of Pompeii itself, one filled with a city that lived in excess before being trapped in time by a volcanic eruption, skeletons that were found staring into the sky, as if they ended their lives in introspection, you have to think of Dark Water. In Dark Water, you find these characters, all seemingly out for themselves, torn and tormented, creating webs of chaos. Yet, there seems to be these tiny moments where they muse on life. But, they’re stuck as though nothing’s changed, they move forward, dancing as their worlds fall apart. There’s no redemption—only rubble and sin. Even in death, with eyes closed, there is no redemption. Everyone is in stasis. Elizabeth muses in the end she would paint it: “We die for having lived, she thought, we live for fear of death.” This sums up the story of Pompeii and the song. And, there’s nothing better than an upbeat song with dark meaning.
Well if you put it like that, it makes perfect sense! And if a film company wanted to do a movie adaptation, would you want them to? Would you want to be involved? And who would you want to play your characters?
I wouldn’t be averse to a film adaptation. In fact, one reviewer commented Dark Water would make a good movie. Though I’d be excited at the prospect of seeing it on film, I’m quite sure I would not want to be involved in the process; I’d be rather curious as to how the screenwriter would adapt the plot and characters. I don’t think I’d have anyone specific in mind to play the roles and would trust the director to place actors/actresses with the perfect abilities to embody each character.
To be honest: the image I had of Henry was the crazed Jack Nicholson in The Shining (heeeeere’s Henry!)! Dark Water is raw, visceral, violent, it definitely puts the noir in noir. Can you tell me a little about that madness, that darkness? Was it like a study of the human mind, or did you want to shock your readers, or was this just where you ended up while you were writing about a psychopath?
Noir is a place to mirror a world where many people unknowingly living torment and hubris to their own detriment. For me, the nature of being human, in all its facets is enough to fill millions of pages of noir. Noir is a place where the darkest parts of the mind has seen over time emerges—into characters and worlds without boundaries. In noir there exists a world of escapism where one can submerge themselves into darkness and safely experience a fictional world that might lend itself to making sense of the darkness of everyday reality. I would say there’s a bit of a shock factor employed, but in that sense it’s a bit of a hyperbole in the way that horror movies/books are also effective.
I am in awe of this answer! I want to print it and frame it and hang it on the wall! Now, Ariana, when reading the Dark Water blurb, the story seems rather straightforward, but when you read the actual novella, it’s anything but. Did you set out with that result in mind or did it grow organically? Are you a planner or do you let your story take you wherever it wants to?
I most certainly did not plan Dark Water. Dark Water started as a challenge to write a short story, which was the beach scene that was subsequently broken up and shaped to fit several chapters. The fire scene was also a short story. Yes, the blurb is straight forward, but I never felt it captured the story accurately. Dark Water was, after deciding it would be more than two short stories, intended to be a femme fatale. With Henry playing more of a McGuffin role, Elizabeth is truly the protagonist, the stereotypical manipulative woman, though many could also classify Lorilei as such. Without giving the plot or my intent away too much, I think it’s safe to say this novella was not planned, and I definitely winged it as a draft before solidifying the plot more and more each time it was edited.
Yes, I have to say I saw Lorilei as the manipulative femme fatale, more than Elizabeth! Did you feel the darkness, the gruesomeness, was a necessity? Like I wrote in my review: I closed the book thinking: what the HELL did I just read?! And I meant that in the best possible way. But I can imagine readers turning that final page and thinking what the HELL did I just read?! in a completely different, far more negative way. Like you told me, Dark Water has elicited very mixed reactions. What would you tell the readers who wonder why certain events are so vividly and explicitly described?
The benefit of reading noir, much like watching horror movies, proves that it has a positive effect on the mind because they are not completely out of sync with reality. After all, it is the reality that creates fiction. So, much like watching horror and relating with them noir is no different. Knowing it is fiction, a figment of imagination makes the readers sure that it is not real. I believe noir is safe to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Noir effectively centers on the dark side of life, the forbidden, and strange and alarming events. It deals with our most primal nature and its fears: our nightmares, our vulnerability, our alienation, our revulsions, our terror of the unknown, our fear of death and dismemberment, loss of identity, or fear of sexuality. In this way I feel the exaggeration of the darkness effectively compliments the plot by drawing the reader in.
I couldn’t agree more! While we’re talking about darkness, if you knew someone very close to you was a murderer, like Henry’s sister knew he was a murderer, what would you do?
Because this is a hypothetical, I don’t think I could honestly answer it. I know I’ve been in a position at a very young age where I know someone very close to me came close to killing someone. It wasn’t the act itself that tore me apart as much as losing the trust in and the relationship with that person for the rest of my life.
Oh my god, Ariana! I’m very sorry to hear that and I can see how that relationship must be tainted forever. It’s often said that everyone is capable of murder in certain circumstances. Do you believe that? What do you think could be a trigger for you? And what would be your weapon and/or method of choice?
I certainly believe we all have dark sides and thoughts that surface in the heat of the moment, but it is our morality, should we have it, that keeps us in check. I, myself, am incapable of hurting others on a physical level. Though I know I’ve hurt people emotionally, it is never my intent to do so, as I know what it’s like to be hurt both physically and emotionally, so I can’t even imagine having a trigger or a weapon of choice. I’m more likely to hurt myself.
Well, I’m glad you didn’t tell me you have a weapon of choice and it’s poison or I’d have to pass on those S’mores! But seriously, you have not have the easiest life, that much is clear! So tell me, what makes you happy, what are some of your favourite things in this life?
Well, my favorite color is blue. I love the smell of crayons and playdoh. I like to listen to music at very high decibels and frequently speed while doing so. I crochet and embroider. I enjoy fishing. And, hockey is, well, life.
You are obviously a woman of many talents! I can relate to the high decibels, but hockey is not life for me, that’s for sure! Let’s backpedal for a minute and go back to the beginning: how did you end up being published by Fahrenheit Press?
Dark Water was originally taken on by Chris Black under Number 13 Press. I’ve always been grateful to him for taking it on. When he wrote to me to let me know Number 13 had been rebirthed as Fahrenheit 13, and imprint of Fahrenheit Press, Dark Water came over with him. After becoming excited by what was going on at Fahrenheit via Twitter, I submitted Red Hands to Chris in early 2018.
Well, Chris Black obviously knows his noir! (What’s in a name, right! Ha, I’m sure he’s never heard that one before ?) And what does the future bring, Ariana? I spotted on your website that you have a new novel coming out this year, can you tell us a little something about it?
Yes, Hollowed Out is set to be released as an e-Book later this year. Hollowed Out diverges from the dynamic of both Dark Water and Red Hands greatly. It is a tale of a love triangle and revenge with plenty of unsuspected twists. Additionally, I’m actively working on a hardboiled manuscript, Sins of the Father, which I hope to have completed at the end of the year.
I for one am looking forward to both!
It was a pleasure talking to you and I can’t thank you enough for your kindness, and the openness, honesty and patience with which you answered all my questions!
As for you, lovely reader, thanks for reading! If you want to connect with Ariana, you can find her on Twitter, and on arianaddenbleyker.com.
Check out Ariana’s novellas here. And if you’d like a sample of Ariana’s writing before you buy, you can read Finger : Knuckle : Palm (an experimental novelette steeped in darkness & the primer for her following work) for free here.