Author Interview: C. David Belt
When I first heard about LDS horror fiction, I giggled.
LDS fiction has some issues, which I'll probably write about eventually. One of those issues is a complete discomfit with anything naughty. You can create scandal with a bum-slap in most rooms of LDS writers. So, I didn't have much hope for LDS horror. I wondered if the "horror" piece would be hearing someone say "bum-slap" in a crowd.
Then I met C. David Belt.
Not only is he a top-notch presenter - honestly, his presentation on medieval weaponry made me want to enlist in the feudal system - but his horror has the exact perfect blend of spine-tingling action and LDS culture. I love his horror scenes. They're completely creepy without defaulting to gore for shock content.
I admit I struggle with some of his female characterization, but that's true of most novels. I wouldn't let it stop me from reading more of his work, though. Even his short stories make me eager for more nights hiding under my covers.
In honor of Halloween (and all the fright-nights to come), I give you...C. David Belt. You can check out his works at unwillingchild.com. You can also view his livestream event with me on YouTube.
Author Interview plus Q&A
What is your process for writing a novel? Are you a plotter? A pantser? Do you outline or let the story develop as it goes?
I start with detailed character sketches. I want to know who my characters are before I attempt to tell their stories. My stories include some element of fantasy or mythology, so I define all the rules of how that fantasy element works. In my vampire trilogy, I wrote down all the myths about vampires and Lilith, and then I stripped away anything that didn't make sense, scientifically, historically, and theologically. Vampires can't be seen in mirrors? Seriously? They can turn themselves in rats, bats, wolves, mist? Makes no sense to me. How much blood does a vampire need to survive? Where does all their energy come from? I needed to answer all those questions (and many, many more) before I could come up with a story that worked in my head. Then I'll create a list of possible "plot points" that might or might not make it into the story. (Most don't.) It's a form of brainstorming on paper. I develop an extremely vague idea of how the story will end. Then I stare at my blank page and I try to come up with perfect opening line. Once I have all that, I let the characters do what they would do. I let them direct the story. (In other words, I listen to the voices in my head.) Then I get feedback after every chapter. I want to know early on if I'm moving in the right direction. By the time I get to the end, the ending is usually not the one I envisioned at the beginning--it's the ending the characters chose.
What kind of research did you do for this novel? Is there any detail you found in your research that particularly interested you?
Obsessive, exhaustive research. My motto is "Research, research, research, then research again." I want to know EVERYTHING about the subject matter. I want to get all the details correct. I never want a reader to say, "That's not right. It doesn't happen that way in real life." The Sweet Sister incorporates a bit of history. History is not pretty. Some of it, actually, a LOT of it is quite gruesome. There were some scenes in the book that required a bit of... finesse, because there are lines I never want to cross. I never want to write a story my mother would be unable to read. One of those scenes involved a rather grizzly human sacrifice. I could not avoid the sacrifice, because it was an important historical detail that helped to define a major character. I really stewed about HOW to tell that part of the story without crossing those lines. I prayed about it. Then I went to Choir rehearsal on Thursday night. As I was sitting in the choir loft of the Tabernacle on Temple Square--Did I mention I'm a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?--staring out into that acoustically perfect dome of the Tabernacle... it came to me. I knew exactly how to tell that part of the story without having to cross the line. It also came to me that there were THREE parts to the ritual, not just two. In all my research, I had uncovered only the two. I went home and typed it up. Then a couple of weeks later, while doing more research on a related topic, I came across an article about a perfectly preserved human body from the exact time period, the exact INCIDENT I had been describing. The victim had been murdered in precisely the way I had described. Needless to say, I broke out in goosebumps. In addition, I make good use of my friends and acquaintances (especially in the Choir) who are subject matter experts. I get them to double-check my German, my Latin, my Gaelic.
What's next for you? Do you have any works in progress?
I have an LDS SF [science fiction] novel, Time's Plague: A Tale Told in Five Acts, coming out next year. (It's under contract!!!!)
I am currently writing The Witch of White Lady Hollow. Set in 1978, southeast Missouri, in the mythical town of Blue Beech Ridge, it's the story of Tabitha Moonshadow and her divorced mother, Molly Moonshadow. In the late summer before Tabitha's senior year of high school, she and Molly abruptly move to a small town. They are (legally) fleeing from her father, Molly's ex-husband. Tabitha's father left them when Tabitha was six. This summer, for the first time in all those years, he demanded that Tabitha stay with him for the court-mandated month. It was an horrific, traumatic experience. So to protect her daughter, Molly took the first job she could find--teaching creative writing at a small junior college--and they moved. Tabitha has been uprooted from her friends, her home, her school, her singing and her acting. Now she's stuck in this tiny town away from everything familiar. To make matters worse, the prejudice against Mormons is very much alive and virulent in Blue Beech Ridge in 1978.
Even in the small branch of the Church, all the youth ostracize her. Most of the adults treat Molly and Tabitha with contempt as outsiders and "uppity women" who "should learn their place". Tabitha doesn't know where she fits in a branch, in a church that doesn't seem to value women. However, there is a group of girls at the school who go out of their way to befriend Tabitha. They call themselves the Circle and they call themselves "witches". (Quick note here: I am not dealing with witchcraft or Satanism in any way here.)
There is a power that all women possess, but most to a negligible degree. However, the members of the Circle are all very strong in the power. And unknown to herself (but known to the Circle), Tabitha is stronger than all of them put together. There is a catch, however--the power cannot be wielded by the girls directly. It can only be wielded by one of two very gifted men--the handsome HS football star, Joey, and a mysterious masked man known only as Magnus. The power comes from the women, but only these two men can channel it. Therefore, in the Circle, women are treated as goddesses. They are worshipped. They are valued. And they desperately want Tabitha to join them. And they will stop at nothing to get her and control her power, including murder.
Meanwhile, Molly has become aware that someone has laid a trap to ensnare her daughter--a mysterious figure known as Magnus... She enlists the help of a sheriff's lieutenant, the handsome Mike Kilmore (who also happens to be a member of the branch presidency). Romance blossoms between Molly and Mike Kilmore, but so does suspicion about the identity of Magnus. Could Mike be the one stalking Molly's daughter?
How's that for a long-winded explanation? But, as you maybe can see, I'm passionate about my story and my characters.
C. David Belt was born in the wilds of Evanston, WY. As a child, he lived and traveled extensively around the Far East. In Thailand, he once fed so many bananas to a monkey, the poor monkey swore off bananas for life. He served as an LDS missionary in South Korea and southern California (Korean-speaking), and yes, he loves kimchi. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Aerospace Studies, but he managed to bypass all English or writing classes. He served as a B-52 pilot in the US Air Force and as an Air Weapons Controller in the Washington Air National Guard and was deployed to locations so secret, his family still does not know where he risked life and limb (other than in an 192' wingspan aircraft flying 200' off the ground in mountainous terrain). When he is not writing, he sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and works as a software engineer. He collects swords, spears, and axes (oh, my!), and other medieval weapons and armor. He and his wife have six children and live in Utah with an eclectus parrot named Mork (who likes to jump on the keyboard when David is writing). There is also a cat, but she can't be bothered to take notice of the parrot, and so that is all the mention we shall make of her.