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A NATURAL STORYTELLER: An Interview With Julie Anne Parks
By Scott Nicholson
julie.jpg (16443 bytes)Julie Anne Parks' first novel, STORYTELLERS, published by Design Image Group, is a dark fantasy based on a Cherokee myth, and is set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The book was recommended for a Stoker Award for Best First Novel, and reached as high as #17 on Ingram's list of top-selling horror titles. Not bad, when you consider that Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice held more than a dozen of those slots.

She's also published 15 short stories in small press magazines and professional anthologies such as KISS OF DEATH and DEAD PROMISES. She's got a new novel in the works and an old one off to the publishing houses. She's one of those oddities: a pleasant and sedate person who also happens to be a horror writer.

Q: When did you decide to start writing seriously?

Parks: During the 80's I was a staff reporter, stringer, and freelance writer for several small New England newspapers. My children were small and I had no free time for creative writing. I promised myself when my kids were older, I'd write. I turned to fiction in 1995: after moving to North Carolina and working as an administrative assistant for a textile company, I really needed a creative outlet. By then, my children were old enough not to need my constant attention, so I let the words rip.

Q: Why did you decide to write dark fantasy and horror?

Parks: I'd always been a horror fan, and as a reporter I spent a lot of time digging around in the dark side of things -- that's what makes the "news", for the most part, the bad things people do. The good part of human nature generally make "feature" stories, and while I did some, I mostly reported on crime, did court reporting, etc., so dark fiction was a natural extrapolation.

Q: Why did you set "Storytellers" in the North Carolina mountains?

Parks: Because I LOVE the NC mountains. Everything in the mountains speaks to me on some primal level. The sudden shifts of light into shadow, the quality of sound: rustling of leaves, flowing water, snorting of a deer, as well as the absence of "civilized" sounds" ringing telephones, screeching brakes, slamming doors, etc. are special. The sounds of the mountains are natural sounds, and the quiet has its own timbre that enthralls me. It's as if without all those mechanical distractions, your mind is free to wander -- and in my case, churns out a story.

Q: What sort of research did you do for the novel?

Parks: Spent some time in a rented isolated cottage where I freewrote page after page of sensory perceptions, trying to capture those things mentioned above that captivated me into descriptions that would make the scene come alive to readers never lucky enough to visit the NC mountains. The quality of light in the NC mountains is different from the New England mountains, and probably both of those are different from mountains out west. The sounds are different, the smells are different, I wanted to make sure I got it right.

I also did a lot of delving into Cherokee folklore, and had a bugger of a time trying to learn whether mountain lions could realistically be placed roaming western Carolina.

Q: Has the early success of your novel made you more serious about a career?

Parks: I'm a realist. I know the chances of ever being able to quit a day job to write horror fiction are slim to none. And sometimes I even wonder if I COULD write without the pressure of time niggling at me. "Success" is relevant. To me, "success" is better measured by constant improvement than one lucky break or one great sale. I work hard to become a better writer; I see improvement in my writing over a year ago, two years ago, and if my critique group says, "This is better than before," I feel successful. But am I serious about writing? You'd better believe it.

Q: How do you fit being a horror writer in with being a mother in the real world?

Parks: IMHO, the only different about being a "horror" writer with being a writer/mother in any other genre is that my imagination has absolutely no limitations on it. If a child is out on a Saturday night and I go to bed and hear a siren, I instantly think something horrid has happened to my child. My imagination spins out a whole scenario of what might have occurred, and I end up laying awake in the dark until the kitchen door slams shut. It's pretty nerve-wracking, but I try to keep it to myself. Fortunately, I've got great kids and they accept the fact that Mom is "weird".

Q: Were you pleased with your publisher, Design Image Group, and their handling of your novel?

Parks: I think they came up with a great cover, one that' s a strong selling point for Storytellers. They're always quick to answer questions, helpful in providing promotional materials, and overall a pleasure to work with. My only disappointment is that Storytellers didn't come out before Halloween, but when I hear the horror stories other authors have about dealing with their publishers, I realize I've been very lucky with Design Image Group.

Q: What sort of projects are you planning or working on now?

Parks: I'm working on another novel, also set in North Carolina, with Scottish elements. The Scots were integral in the settling of this state -- my own ancesters were early settlers in the Northeast Cape Fear region. Plus I'm working on some short stories and working hard to promote Storytellers. I've got enough things in the fire so that the days just aren't long enough to accomplish all that I want.

To learn more, visit
Julie's homepage.
-Copyright 1999 By Scott Nicholson


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