Horror Writers Association Blog

Interview with Horror University instructor Hank Schwaeble


We’re wrapping up our series of interviews with StokerCon 2017’s Horror University instructors with Hank Schwaeble, who tells us about his “Saying More With Less” workshop. Thanks for reading, and see you in Long Beach!

Hank Schwaeble: Saying More With Less

facebook_1462908461795Saying More With Less—how to make your (and your characters’) words be worth a thousand pictures.

“Omit needless words” is as close to a Prime Directive as we authors get, but how do you as a writer decide what is and isn’t needed? In this class I’ll focus on tips and techniques for energizing your prose through economy and efficiency, the power of verbs and the huge exception to the rule regarding them, understanding how tight dialogue both establishes and reveals character, how to write action scenes that propel the reader through them, and how understanding the reasons some stories resonate while others fall flat can free you from a tendency to overwrite.

Hank Schwaeble is the two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Damnable (Jove 2009), Diabolical (Jove 2011) and The Angel Of The Abyss (Cohesion Press), as well as the horror noir collection American Nocturne (Cohesion Press 2016). His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Alone on the Darkside, Five Strokes to Midnight, ZVR: No Man’s Land, V-Wars: Night Terrors and X-Files: The Truth Is Out There, among other places. Also a World Fantasy Award nominee, he is an ex-Air Force officer and military Special Agent, a practicing attorney, and a licensed pilot. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing guitar, catching bass and flying planes. He lives in the Houston, Texas, area with his wife (fellow author) Rhodi Hawk and their many animals.

Tell us something about your Horror University workshop that is not in the original description.
I plan to share some often overlooked insight into the writing process regarding story structure, things that greatly enhanced my understanding of how to approach the process and that I believe will be of tremendous benefit to those attending, regardless of experience level.  Also, each of my students is going to receive two free (paper!) books, courtesy of my publisher(s).
What skills or achievements make you ideally suited to lead this workshop?
I’ve been published both by major publishing houses and smaller presses, so I have a good amount of experience to share, and as an attorney I’ve had to develop skills in translating complex ideas into terms suited for a particular audience.  Explaining something to a judge is different, for example, than explaining something to an engineer, which is different than explaining something to a business manager.  Why is it different?  Because each will have his or her own set of professional areas of concern and frameworks for interpretation.  This had been a tremendous asset in enhancing my ability to convey understandings of various aspects of the writing process to people of different backgrounds and experience.
Why do you feel that your workshop subject is especially important?
There are fundamentals to what separate “professional” writing from that produced by talented beginners or amateurs, and even from skilled and experienced writers who have not been able to crack into professional markets consistently.  Many of these fundamentals simply aren’t taught or discussed in ways that are accessible to writers who want to have information they can apply to their own work.
If you could participate in one other Horror University workshop, which one would you choose and why?
Probably either Jack Ketchum’s, because I’d love to hear his thoughts on using one’s darkest secrets to add intensity to your story, or Jonathan Maberry’s, because his knowledge of “branding” for writers is better than anyone else’s in the industry that I can think of.
Do you approach the craft of writing horror differently from other genres?
Yes, and no.  The basics of writing are the same, with the fundamentals being more or less universal, so the approach to the prose and characterization is the same.  But the approach to the subject matter, and in some ways the structure, is different.  Horror is a unique genre in that it is more defined by the reaction it elicits, or is intended to elicit, from a reader than it is by a set of conventions.  One could write the same story, with the same characters and same plot, and by merely changing a few details in key scenes transform it from a certain kind of horror novel to a thriller novel, or a suspense novel, or a mystery, and vice-versa.  I’m not sure there are any other genres you could do that with, without horror being on one end of the change or the other.
Apart from teaching your workshop, what are you most looking forward to at StokerCon?
StokerCon is the social event for the horror literature community.  It’s where we get to see, meet, reacquaint and share with peers and colleagues, old friends and new ones.  It is a vital part of being a participating member of the genre, providing social and professional opportunities it would be hard to find elsewhere.  Time with friends who share our particular interest and passion is what I always look forward to the most.
What do you most hope that those attending your workshop take away from it?
That despite so many aspects of it being difficult to pin down or firmly grasp in ways that are easily articulated, writing is not a mystical process.  It can seem that way, and the results for both writer and reader are often magical (which is probably why we do it), but it is a process, and there are techniques and principles involved, rules to be understood–even if they’re not uniformly enforced and have many exceptions.  Ways to improve as a writer can be taught, and by that I mean, can be learned, and sometimes improvement can happen quite rapidly, if certain fundamentals are explained or illustrated in practical terms.  All it takes is someone willing to learn.

StokerCon 2017 is happening April 27th through April 30th on the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Tickets are still available by visiting the official website.

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