Horror Writer TJ Payne Talks with The Booky Babe About How He Creates His Unique Story Lines
Guess who's back? Back again? The Booky Babe is back! Tell a friend. 😉 Hi friends. As you can see, I'm back with another author interview (please hold your applause until the end, kay thanks). I'm super excited about this one. We have none other than the super talented TJ Payne!
Who is TJ Payne, you ask? Well! Buckle up, buttercup because I am going to tell you exactly who this twisted fellow is. If you couldn't guess from the title, he is a horror writer. His work focuses on the dark and ugly parts of humanity with story lines that make you uncomfortable but unable to look away. He currently lives his life devoid of murder and mayhem with his wife and their dog Frank. So far, he has three books out and all are phenomenal, in my humble opinion. I've linked my reviews to the three of them here. Check them out.
All three are pretty intense but super entertaining reads. The Venue was my favorite of the three. If you haven't read it, then you need to go snatch it TUH-DAY. Go ahead and add it to your cart on Amazon. I'll even add the link to his books here so it'll make it easier for you. Click the banner below and go grab a book or three.
After reading his work, I just had to talk to him to see where his head was at. Wanted to take a quick peek inside the mind that created something as dark, twisty, and incredibly unsettling as Intercepts. So without further ado, let's get to it.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Publishing the first book — In My Father’s Basement — really changed my perspective of writing from being “this is a thing I might do one day” to “this is a thing I CAN do…and really want to do again… and again… and again.” That first book was a massive learning experience. I come from a screenwriting background, but novel writing presents its own rules and challenges, while also offering new freedoms and opportunities. Screenplays have to be a certain length (usually 110 pages), but novels don’t have that constraint.
In fact, the more the story is allowed to branch off and explore character and situations in depth, the richer and fuller the world becomes. It was immensely freeing to be able to just write to a wide audience instead of writing a screenplay specifically for the approval of one particular producer, or actor, or director. And that freedom of actually speaking to an audience made me fall in love with writing in ways I hadn’t felt before in my career.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching
before beginning a book?
I’m a curious person by nature, and so I feel that I’m always conducting research. In my
free time, I prefer to read non-fiction because I’m fascinated to learn about people, places, events, etc. When I meet someone at a party, I tend to pepper them with questions about their job, family, and hobbies because I just love to hear people talk about their lives. Stories come from characters and characters come from humanity. I don’t try to build a knowledge base in service of a plot, instead I seek out knowledge, and then a plot often blossoms from that knowledge.
I give myself freedom to just go wherever my interests take me (and they take me to some fun places!). For instance, I went through a period where I was fascinated by Cold War intelligence gathering, and so I was consuming books about the NSA, CIA, Project MK Ultra, and so forth. Eventually, these ideas of shady experiments conducted in the name of “national security” formed into the concept for Intercepts — a book where human beings, if properly tortured, become the equipment through which intelligence is gathered. I started asking myself what kind of characters would inhabit that world, and what kind of situations would arise in their everyday lives.
I’m constantly surprised by how many people share my messed-up sensibilities! It’s a joy to find like-minded people.
I folded in my own experiences working in a corporate environment and the people I met in those jobs. And, rather quickly, an entire story opened up to me. And “research” doesn’t have to be reading a bunch of books and articles. For example, the concept of The Venue (a place where the super-rich hold parties where they can do whatever they want) was born from my experiences planning my own wedding, and the weird rituals we all take for granted. I built up a
knowledge base surrounding weddings that led itself to all sorts of characters, plot mechanics, and of course, mass carnage. It just goes to show, inspiration can strike from anywhere.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your
I’m constantly surprised by how many people share my messed-up sensibilities! It’s a joy to find like-minded people. Writing books that express my views on morality and humanity has made me feel connected to the world. So, thank you to everyone who has given me a chance, and I hope I provided you with a good, fun ride. I’m surprised how many of you there are, and I feel very lucky that we found each other.
As the writer, I knew I would have to experience these scenes through draft after draft after draft, so it had to be done in a way that I would be able to stomach multiple readings and rewrites.
So far, your stories deal with the dark side of human nature. What was your
hardest scene to write? What made it hard?
In My Father’s Basement contains scenes of some pretty intense torture. I’ve done a great deal of research into serial killers, and they are truly depraved, sadistic humans. I didn’t want to shy away from that (I feel too many fictionalized serial killer narratives portray the killers as Hannibal Lecter — far more “artistic” or “philosophical” than true serial killers), but I also didn’t want to immerse the story in scenes of gratuitous violence.
As the writer, I knew I would have to experience these scenes through draft after draft after draft, so it had to be done in a way that I would be able to stomach multiple readings and rewrites. Ultimately, the key to cracking those scenes became the point-of-view from which they were told. The torture is revealed through first-person narration, because it is the father telling his son about his crimes. That created just enough distance to make those crimes (and they’re very sadistic crimes) palatable.
As the reader, you’re not being placed inside the basement, watching the torture play out in front of you; instead, you’re listening to an old man tell a tall tale. In one sense, the scenes become far more horrific because this method allows Walter (the killer) to utilize his voice and folksiness in the retelling, and it lets him try to disarm you with his story. Several readers have commented that they actually kind of liked Walter, which was a disturbing experience for them because he is clearly a monster who is actively trying to make people sympathize with him. It ended up being a far more powerful story than if I
had written out a beat-by-beat torture book.
How do you process and deal with negative book reviews?
First of all, I’m consistently blown away by the positivity of the reviews my books receive! The internet often feels like it’s dominated by negativity, but the opposite is actually true. People, on the whole, want to have fun, they want to be happy, they want to love, and they want to share those good feelings with the world (and yes, even horror books can express feelings of “fun” “happiness” and “love”, they just have somewhat twisted versions of those concepts). I’m always thankful to the people who take the time to share how much they enjoyed my books, even if it’s just a sentence or two. As for the negative reviews, they’re a bummer just because I want everyone who reads my books to have a good time.
I recognize that taste is subjective, and my books just aren’t meant for everyone. As a writer, one of the biggest challenges is sorting out which criticism is helpful and which criticism is unhelpful. Many reviews of In My Father’s Basement commented that they felt the ending was very abrupt. In screenwriting, horror and thriller films end as soon as the protagonist has defeated the “monster” (whether physical or
metaphorical), or the monsters defeats the protagonist.
And, without giving away spoilers, I felt that Isaac had reached the conclusion regarding his relationship with his father, and that the story had, therefore, found its end. But books aren’t movies, and readers rightfully wanted me to unpack those moments a bit more and to let them play out a bit longer. I’ve taken that criticism to heart and both Intercepts and The Venue build out the end more and give proper resolutions to the stories, and readers have responded that those are some of their favorite chapters. And so, I’m very glad I listened to the readers because they were right!
I recognize that taste is subjective, and my books just aren’t meant for everyone
So there you have it folks! TJ Payne said a mouthful! Books offer a certain freedom that writing screenplays does not and the key to writing those hard to stomach scenes for your story, is to pinpoint the point of view you want the story to be told from. Do you want the reader to feel as if they're in the same room watching the horrible scene play out around them, or do you want them to feel as if they're listening to another person recount the details of the scene? It's all up to you and your pen. The possibilities are endless!
If you enjoyed this interview, make sure you come back for Part II. It should be up two weeks from today. If you haven't read any of TJ Payne's work, make sure you run over to amazon and grab a book of his. You have two weeks to catch up before the next part of this interview is released. So wait are you waiting for? Go! Go! Go! You'll see exactly what I mean by stories that make you uncomfortable, but do not give you the option to look away.
If you like a little gore mixed with sarcastic humor and morally terrible, yet somehow likeable characters then this is the guy for you! The Booky Babe is super excited to read whatever he has coming out next! I can only hope that when I publish my first novel, it does half as well as his have. We shall see! Thank you for joining me. Make sure you come back in two weeks for the next part. In the meantime, feel free to busy yourself with the other posts on the webpage. We got original short stories written by yours truly here. Honest book reviews here and more! Make yourself at home. And be sure to tell me what you think!
Happy Reading Babes!❤