Interview Kristi Petersen Schoonover
1. What got you interested in writing?
My late father was an English teacher who especially loved short stories, so that probably had something to do with it; he read to me constantly, and most of the time it was stuff way beyond my years, such as W.W. Jacobs’ terrifying ghost story “The Monkey’s Paw” when I was about six. But, I do remember starting to write stories long before that, as soon as I had learned the alphabet, in fact. My very first story I wrote when I was in pre-school. It was called “The Lonely Tree,” and it was written on that manila paper with the enormous, light blue lines. I found that story recently, and when I read it, it contained a couple of themes prevalent in my work today: loss, loneliness, suffering, justice. I’ve often thought that if you’re going to be a writer or an artist, the tendency is born in you, and it’s whether or not you develop it that determines your destiny. Every serious writer I’ve talked to tells me they started when they were too young to even articulate or understand what they were doing, so I don’t think I’m too far off in that. I think the interest has been there from day one.
2. Did the paranormal lead you to writing or the other way around?
I always had interests in both the paranormal and writing from the time I was really young, so I think it’s appropriate to say they’ve always simultaneously existed. What I can say is that my involvement in the paranormal is what put me on the path to specializing in ghost stories. Once I experienced the real deal—heard the ghostly EVPs and saw the dark shadows—I couldn’t stop writing about it in my work. It just brought it to a whole new level.
3. Have you ever thought about doing your stories in podcast form?
Yes! Absolutely, and often. I just don’t tackle anything until I know I can devote almost all of my time to it, so that it’s high quality. In the past couple of years, other projects have taken priority, so that’s been on the back burner. I imagine one of these days I will definitely start producing stories in audio format.
4. Next to G&D, what is your favorite paranormal radio show?
I find it’s not so much about the subject matter with me, but the people. The only two I listen to on a consistent basis (other than G&D) are Frank Todaro’s The Invisible World, which I find simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking, and full of interesting personalities; and I like The Deadline, which is the podcast of the New Jersey Ghost Hunter’s Society. It’s down-to-earth, entertaining and informative. I just wish that one were a little more frequent. I’m sure there are others out there I’d like, too, but I just haven’t had the time to check out every single one.
5. Who are your favorite writers?
My God, that’s a hard question to answer! My list is seriously too long to print here, so I’ll just name some. When I was a kid, I was really into Stephen King. I still am, but I enjoy and re-read his older stories and books. Now, most of my time is spent on short stories. I love Koji Suzuki, Daniel Pearlman, Edgar Allan Poe (I’m a member of the Poe Studies Association if that’s any indication how crazy I am about his work), Gina Ochsner, who writes wonderful literary ghost stories, and Alison Lurie, who wrote a terrific collection of ghost stories called Women and Ghosts.
6. What haunted location would you love to go to?
I’d really love to hit all the locations in St. Augustine. There’s just so much stuff there, so many settings that could inspire some pretty fantastic ghost fiction. But I really want to go back to this abandoned Geology Lab I discovered this winter. I was there to take photos of all the decay—and I came home with video literally loaded with EVPs to the point where it sounded like someone was following me the whole time, even repeating what I said or responding to the friend I was with. We weren’t even looking for ghosts—I was in urban explorer mode, it was the middle of a warm, winter afternoon, and all I was interested in was documenting the decay for art’s sake. And come on, a Geology Lab? It’s the last place you’d expect to find paranormal activity. I plan on getting back there in January.
7. What is your all-time favorite horror movie?
That’s another really tough question, because I love so many horror movies I couldn’t possibly list them all. But I favor ghost stories over all, so hands down, it’s Robert Wise’s 1963 The Haunting with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom. Although I’m also a huge fan of William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus (1961), and my most recent favorite is Del Toro’s The Orphanage (2007), which was probably the scariest ghost story I’d seen up to that point in a long time.
8. What is your favorite paranormal TV show?
I go for interesting, intelligent characters and something with story. I liked Extreme Paranormal—not because it was Nathan and Shaun’s show, actually, but because it had diversified characters and a clever, thrilling storyline. All of these qualities are also in Destination Truth and the new Beast Legends, and I make a point never to miss those. So right now, I guess I’d have to say my favorite current paranormal shows are Destination Truth and Beast Legends.
9. I know it is like asking someone who their favorite child is, but out of your stories, which is your favorite?
Ha! You’re absolutely right about ‘favorite children.’ I write many, many stories and have drawers full that are still unedited and unpublished, and I find that my “favorite” stories tend to change from month to month and year to year; usually, what’s in my “favorite” category is something I wrote in the past year or so that I really happened to like. I’d say my three favorites right now are “Doors,” which was recently published in Carpe Articulum Literary Review and was recently featured on a college course syllabus (and I got to go talk to the class, which was very exciting) and “Screams of Autumn,” which was published in Spilt Milk. I like them because there’s a stronger connection with nature in them than I’ve ever seen in my work before. The third story is “Paisley Surprise,” which I wrote for my Christmas Chapbooks last year (I send out a chapbook instead of a card), but it got picked up by an anthology and is also being taught in a college course. I like that one because one of my favorite stories that my late Dad read to me—and it always makes me think of him—is Carl Stephenson’s “Leningen Vs. the Ants.” I’ve been told “Paisley” is one of the scariest things I’ve ever written, so now I’m studying it to figure out what I did right.
10. Any advice for people looking to get published?
Yes. Read, read, read. And write because you love it. Don’t write because you want to get published—that’s a wonderful thing, but that can happen at any time. Don’t be in such a rush; take time with your work. And enjoy the process of crafting, and make that effort to go to school for it or to take extra courses. The only reason I’ve kept on writing all of these years despite all of the rejection—and there’s a lot of that, let me tell you, even for successful writers—is because my stories were always an escape. When life got rough, I wrote a story and took myself out of reality for awhile, and that’s when the passion surfaced. If you allow yourself to feel passion as you write—writing because you love it and not for any other reason—that’s going to come through in your work. Much of the reason that the stories in Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World are so memorable and scary (so I’ve been told) is because I didn’t write those stories with the intent of publishing them. I wrote them because I needed to go to Disney World and couldn’t afford it, and because I was going through a rough time in my life. So all of that fear and passion just cascaded onto the page. When you’re ready to start sending out your work for publication, treat that as a cold business and don’t be so emotional. Send your story twenty places. When those twenty places say no, send it out to thirty more. Don’t be afraid of rejection—and persist, persist, persist. Oh, yeah—and never, ever say “no” to an opportunity. Even if it’s tiny. You never know where it will take you someday.