An Interview With
Philip Fracassi is an award-winning author and a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles. He’s the creator of many successful works: Behold The Void, a short story collection; Shiloh, Fragile Dreams and Sacculina, novellas; Girl Missing, Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups, screenplays. His upcoming projects include the screenplays: Observe, Escape The Night, The Boys In The Village, Gothic and Vintage. He’s the founder of Equator Books, a publishing house and rare, out-of-print bookstore in Venice, CA. He has also been a live music producer for House of Blues Entertainment and produced more than 3000 live internet broadcasts.
Check out his work before you get to know the man?
Hi Philip, I’m thrilled that you are here with me and about to share some of your deepest secrets. Thank you so much for being here! I can’t wait to bombard you with questions. Let’s start with the most important one. You’re a horror writer. What inspired you to take horror as your main genre? What are the themes that are unique to this genre that makes horror so special? And within this vast spectrum of horror, what subgenre do you enjoy the most?
Hi, and thanks for having me. I love being a horror writer, and have always been drawn to horror as a consumer – reading books and watching movies since I was very young. When I started writing screenplays, I focused on horror, even though my fiction was more mainstream literary. Then one day I made the decision to transition my fiction to the horror genre, and things really took off.
I think what makes horror special is that anything can happen. I like supernatural horror because it opens the story to infinite possibilities, which is exhilarating as a writer and, hopefully, for readers.
I don’t pay too much attention to classifications of horror, but I’ll say that my work, and the work I enjoy reading, lands more in what would be considered literary horror, such as Peter Straub, Brian Evenson, Laird Barron, etc. Not so much “splatter” or “body” horror, I guess.
Often it is in our childhood days that we realize what we’d like to do when we grow up. Stories are now an essential part of your life. When was the first time you fell in awe with a story, and consequently, the art of storytelling?
I wrote my first story when I was in 3rd grade and immediately fell in love with writing and storytelling. My first horror story was written when I was about 14 years old, and I’ve never really stopped.
Can you recall your very first story? When was this? What was it about?
The first story I wrote was about superhero turtles, but I don’t recall the name. My first horror story was called “The Forest”, and was about a creature who attacked some neighborhood kids.
You’re a creator of many different horrifyingly beautiful stories. For an author, his books are like his kids and it’s impossible to pick a favourite. But can you still try? In other words, what story did you absolutely love writing?
Some stories are like sneezes. They just come out of you! But many are like lifting hundred-pound weights, each word, each sentence a huge effort. I don’t know if I have a favorite story, per se, and all stories take effort. But in regards to enjoying the process, I’d say my short story “Altar” was the most fulfilling, because I just felt like I nailed it. Plus it was an early story for me, and the one that sort of put me on the horror map, so there’s that.
Was your family supportive about your creative endeavours? Who do you think stood with you and your dreams?
Definitely. My wife is hugely supportive. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her. She’s amazing, and she’s also my first reader on all my work. I’m a very lucky guy!
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you come up with ideas spontaneously or you lay groundwork before you actually start writing? What are the steps in your creative process? How many drafts do you go through until you’re satisfied with the end result?
Because I’m also a screenwriter, I’m very used to developing stories with sound structures, because screenplays are very structured pieces. So I’m definitely a plotter. I always know where I’m going. Not saying things can’t, or don’t, change, but I always have an initial landing spot for a plot.
Creatively, I usually come up with the basic idea, then I outline it so I know the beats of the story, even if they’re just vague. Then I begin the writing. With the novel I just finished, the structure and outline was much more extensive than my stories. I can be freer with stories, more of a pantser as I go, but with novels I prefer a sound structure. I can usually tell when I’m reading a novel and the author doesn’t know where he’s going, and it bothers me.
The number of drafts depends on the story. I’m the type of writer who writes what I call a “vomit” draft, which is just me getting the bones of the story down. Then I do a pass where I infuse more prose, clean up mechanical stuff. Then another pass to polish and sweeten the language and, if needed, fix story elements. Most stories, therefore, get 3-4 passes before an editor lays eyes on it. Then there’s usually another pass or two with notes from an editor or publisher.
Screenplays are a different beast. You can find yourself literally doing dozens and dozens of rewrites. Lots of cooks in those kitchens.
You’re both a writer and a screenwriter. There are many differences between these two forms of storytelling. Do you need to do a ritual or something to transition from one form to another? Is there a better form among the two, or both have their own benefits and drawbacks. What form do you enjoy writing the most?
I definitely enjoy fiction more than screenwriting. It’s much more fulfilling from a creative standpoint because it’s MINE and I control every word, every plot point. With screenplays it’s more about creating a framework for a lot of other people to build from. A lot of people have input to a screenplay, and you’re very much at the whim of the director, the studio, the producers, the actors. It’s an ever-evolving thing until it appears on a screen.
I don’t really have a ritual to swap between the two forms, I’m lucky in that for me it’s not difficult to jump from one to the other.
Which authors do you look up to? Whose works do you enjoy the most?
When I first started writing horror I was lucky enough to become friends with Laird Barron, who over the years has been a mentor and a guide through the crazy world of fiction writing and publishing. It so happens he’s also one of my very favorite writers.
Did you always want to become a writer? If perhaps things would have gone differently, which profession would you have chosen?
Sadly, for me it’s writing or nothing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever truly been passionate about. For a while I owned a rare bookstore, and I’m an avid collector of rare editions, so if I couldn’t write I’d likely devote my life to bookselling, since books are a passion, as well.
What are your proudest and most embarrassing moments?
I think my proudest moment was seeing my book being written about in The New York Times (for the release of BEHOLD THE VOID). Haven’t had many embarrassing moments so far, but I’m sure they’re coming.
Is there anything about you—strange likings or personality quirks—that no one knows yet? Would you like to share them?
Nothing really too crazy. I am a pretty big book nerd – I have a pretty massive library at home. One quirk is that before I read a hardcover book I need to put a mylar protective wrapper over the dustjacket, like the kind they use in libraries. So my collection looks an awful lot like a library.
Besides writing, what are your other hobbies? Do you watch movies and TV Shows? Name your favourites.
I don’t do much besides reading and writing to be honest. I do watch certain television shows. I enjoyed Game of Thrones quite a bit. Right now I’m watching two other HBO shows – Barry and Veep.
Now the most important question: are you a foodie? What sort of food do you love?
No, not a foodie. I try to eat healthy and steer clear of fast food. I love Indian food – Chicken Tikka Masala is probably my favorite thing in the world. I also love sushi.
What are your goals? What do you aspire to achieve? What are your upcoming projects?
My only real goal is to someday forge a career from writing. Between my fiction and my screenplays I hope to be able to just write for a living and shed myself of a day job.
Upcoming projects include a giant novel currently called A CHILD ALONE WITH STRANGERS, as well as a new collection of stories tentatively titled BENEATH A PALE SKY. Nothing solid as of yet, but hopefully by the end of 2019 I’ll have more info.
Later this year Cemetery Dance Publications are releasing a limited edition novella of mine called THE WHEEL.
Do you think that the future of the writing field is bright (especially horror writing)? Or must certain measures be taken to ensure progress in the field?
The future is certainly bright. Horror is on a big upswing right now, both in books and movies, so it’s a good time to be creating new horror stories. I think as long as quality books and stories continue to hit the market, there’s no end to how big horror can get.
Do you have any dreams that go beyond the field of writing and publishing?
No, not really. I’ve always dreamed of being a published writer and a produced screenwriter. And I’ve done those things. Now I just want to keep doing it.
You’re an author and a publisher, and you’ve worked on several projects. The writing wisdom you would have developed from your career must be brilliant. What writing tips would you like to give to upcoming writers? What is the most important rule of fiction?
A friend once told me the most important virtue for any writer is perseverance. It’s a tough field to break into and a tough field to navigate. There will be ups and downs, victories and setbacks. But if you stay the course and don’t get too high or too low, you’ll continue to progress.
The most important rule of fiction, in my opinion, is to be yourself. Have a unique voice. Don’t try to be another writer or copy their voice. If you have a strong, unique style, you’ll develop a following, but nobody wants to read stuff they’ve already read. Break the mold.
Some of your works highlight existence of a hidden world, where monsters hungry for our blood rest and dance, waiting for the perfect moment to sink their fangs in our flesh. Did you have any otherworldly experiences that intensified your belief in the paranormal? Or certain things are just known and have no clear explanation?
I’d say I have a curiosity of the otherworldy and the supernatural. I read a lot about the afterlife, the occult, secret societies, ghosts and the cosmos. Philosophy and Science. The hidden history of our world and our society. But have I ever had a paranormal experience? Yes, but just once. Let’s just say I saw the energy a human becomes when they translate, and it was unsettling to say the least.
If you could, would you like to walk beyond this veil that separates these two worlds? Or you’re happy just being an observer from a safe distance away?
I’d be down with a visit to the dimensional bridge. As long as the ticket it round-trip.
Horror is a difficult genre to write. Making impossible fear believable and showing it as realistically as possible is a great challenge. But your stories make it all seem so easy. It’s easy to get lost in your terrifying worlds. How do you make it so easy? Would you please share the finer nuances of your writing that make your stories feel so real?
I think it all comes down to creating relatable characters. If readers believe in the characters – the way they act, the way they talk, the way they think and feel – then they’ll buy into the dangers those characters are being subjected to, which makes the experience for reader that much more frightening. It’s a lot scarier to read about something – even something insanely supernatural – if you believe in the characters it’s happening to.
Every writer is a thinker. Would you like to comment on the future of mankind? Is it a happy or a dark, bleak picture?
Oh gosh, I’m not a believer in the future, sadly. I think we’re all pretty much doomed. I give mankind another 100-200 years before we blow it and another species takes over. So I’m glad I was able to be part of our small window. It’s been fun.
Thank you so much for the wonderful review, Philip. With so much going on, I know your schedule must be crazy, and I’m very grateful for your time. I wish you all the best for your upcoming endeavours.