Author’s Spotlight: Tobin Elliott Interview

Tobin Elliot, author of The Aphotic series and others

1. First, introduce yourself a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from?

I’m Tobin Elliott (and yeah, that’s my real name…who needs a pen name when you’re stuck with “Tobin”?) and I’m from the Great White North. I live about an hour east of Toronto, in Ontario.

2. Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as?

This is where it begins to get complicated… my most recent work is actually a six-book horror series called The Aphotic.

What it’s about…

The Aphotic is a hexalogy about a Book who seeks out those at the fringe, those that think of the bad things they wish they could do… and the Book finds them and offers up the powers to do so.

What It doesn’t offer is the price each will pay for letting the Book into their mind.

Over the six books, you’ll meet the people of New Hope—some good, some very bad, some human, some demon, werewolf, or vampire—and watch as a century of stories collide at the end, as various characters from each book are drawn into the battle against the one pulling the Book’s strings.

They are all interconnected and should be read in order. It’s the story I’ve been working on telling for a long time, but it’s not my first published work. I’ve had three novellas published about ten years ago through a couple of micro-presses, and a bunch of short stories in various anthologies. All horror.

3. Tell us a bit about your main character; what are they like, how did they come about, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses?

Over six books, I don’t have one main character, but there is one—Talia—that makes appearances in four of the six books. When we meet her in the first book, Bad Blood, she’s an angry and vengeful nine-year-old, upset that her father has left the family, and she blames her baby sister for it. Then an equally angry and vengeful Book comes into her possession, and suddenly, Talia’s ability to get back at those that upset her is magnified to a dangerous level.

By the last novel, Talia almost fifty and…well…things have changed. I don’t want to say more about that, because her changes mirror the heart of the story. Let’s just leave it as she’s one of my favourite characters to write.

How did she come about? Well, I was casting about for a novella-length story, and I ran across a short story I’d written years before. And while I plucked some of the details out and built a new story around them, the central girl… interesting, angry, and powerless, spoke to me, because, in many ways, I was that kid at one time. We write what we know, right?

Her strength is her unwavering confidence in herself, as is her conviction. She doesn’t think she’s right, she knows it. Her weaknesses all stem from her strengths, as the best weaknesses do. She’s overconfident, because a child trusting and using the Book is like a child trusting a wild horse to obey her. And, of course, she’s not always right. So she needs to learn to temper both of those qualities.

4. What was your hardest scene to write in this (or any) book?

The hardest scene to write came after I thought I’d finished the sixth and final book. I’d literally written “The End” with great satisfaction, then when I went to bed, I started to think about the entire story, and realized that I needed something—some traumatic event—in one of the characters’ backstory to make their ultimate redemption make a bit more sense.

So, the next day, I had an idea and I started to write that scene. Obviously, after I’d gone to sleep, my devious little hindbrain continued to chug along and come up with more material because—and I’m being completely truthful here—I started the scene, and a couple of paragraphs in, I realized what I was now writing was uncharted territory. I honestly wasn’t sure what this was leading up to, until I actually began writing what it was leading up to.

Here’s my thing: when I sit down to write, I will have a rough idea of where I’m starting, and where I’m ending, but I do trust my gut to fill in the details as I go. I find that spontaneity is where the magic happens.

And that’s what was happening here. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I trust myself enough to just let it pour out.

And what poured out was more trauma for this character than I’d expected to give her. For me, it was awful to write. I, for the first time, was actually crying as I destroyed this character.

Even weirder, I finished the scene, then saved it and walked away. Talking to my wife about it, I started crying yet again.

To me, I think that’s a sign that I’ve done the right thing. If I can get invested in a character that I created… invested enough to hurt for them… then I’m writing something good.

5. Did you go the traditional route when publishing your book or did you choose to self-publish?

I offered up the series to several publishers, but I knew, with some of the subject matter, it was always going to be a hard sell. I did have one publisher express interest, however, the first editor who looked at it—and I’ll stress here that the call was for “horror”—decided it was not for her because it was “too much horror”…

…yeah. Okay.

Anyway, they did say they were passing it over to two other editors who might be a better fit, however, as it’s been over a year with nothing but “hold on, they’ll get to it” promises and nothing else, I decided it was time to put it out myself. I decided that because I didn’t want to compromise on any of the subject matter in the books, and I also had a vision for the covers that, along with my cover artist, have exceeded anything I’d hoped to get created.

6. What would you say is the most difficult part of your writing journey and what advice would you give to other writers?

The most difficult part of my writing journey has always been two things…

First, believing in my writing. I get a lot of fantastic feedback for my writing, but there’s still times when I’ll read something of my own and think, “ugh, that’s terrible.” The funny thing is, I’ll set it aside and, six months later, come back to it and be really happy with it. Self-doubt of your abilities is a horrible, destructive thing.

Second, just building the habit of bum in chair. It’s easy to create excuses to not write.

“I’m still thinking about it.”

“I’m not inspired.”

“I don’t know what to write.”

“I’m stuck.”

I’ve learned that you can’t wait for any of that. Getting in the habit of just sitting down and planting my fingers on that keyboard is enough to get me going. I always find something to write, no matter if there’s inspiration or whatever. Just sit down and write.

7. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I have always loved how Stephen King interconnects all his stories into one vast tapestry, but not necessarily with interconnected stories, more with just little mentions here and there. Obviously, with this hexalogy, yes, it’s fully connected, with recurring characters and themes. But I do consciously look for ways to add in those little mentions between all my work.

8. Who are some of your favourite authors, what are some of your favourite books, and what inspired you to become a writer in the first place?

That’s a hell of a list you’re asking for!

Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov were my first loves with both their short story collections, Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust, Rendezvous with Rama, and others, and Asimov with his Robot and Foundation series. I was an SF guy before I was a horror guy.

Ray Bradbury, under the guise of SF, introduced me to the wiles of horror. I can still remember the first time I read The Veldt… it’s left a mark on me that, decades later, still remains. Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes and The October Country are still favourites that I revisit.

Stephen King is a huge influence, with too many favourites to mention. But I will say, when I picked up Carrie, I remember thinking two things. The first was, Carrie White was me. I was Carrie. I was bullied, I was the outcast. And he captured a lot of my feelings and insecurities in that novel. The second was, hell, this is something I could write. It gave me the courage to try.

Jack Ketchum is another huge influence, and I adore his work. But it was The Girl Next Door that showed me how to be fearless in my writing, and to write stuff that Hurt.

Joe R. Lansdale quickly stole my heart, whether it was with his goofy horror, his Hap and Leonard series, or his gorgeously written examinations of life in Texas in the 60s and 70s, he’s just a brilliant writer. And right now, my three favourite authors are Eric Leland (if you haven’t read Inhuman, you’re missing out), Matthew Lyons (The Night Will Find Us and A Black And Endless Sky are phenomenal), and finally, the best horror author in the business right now, Philip Fracassi (when The Boys In The Valley is released, you need to read it, it’s brilliant).

9. What would you say has been the best way to market your books?

I don’t know if I’ve actually cracked that nut yet, to be honest. I’ve been pounding the social media trail, and that’s helped, and I’ve reached out to a bunch of bookstagrammers, and that’s helped as well.

But the most traction has been from publishing through IngramSpark, so my novels are available pretty much globally, then working with the large outlets, and specialty shops, to make sure they have some physical copies in their stores.

It’s a lot of work, but it all pays off. It’s all the small streams that eventually lead to a river.

10. Are there any tropes, clichés, or writing styles that you dislike and, if so, what are they and why?

I’ve never been a fan of anything told in second person POV (you did this, you saw that), but, having said that, I have read one book that did it well.

The only writing style that drives me bonkers is the Cormac McCarthy elimination of apostrophes and quotes, leaving you to shake your head at words like “cant” which has a completely different meaning from “can’t” and puzzling out if someone’s actually talking or not. I love McCarthy, but I can only get through a book by listening to audio, because otherwise, I just yell at him for several hundred pages.

I am getting sick of the “hero of a thousand faces”  Joseph Campbell trope that’s been used from everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter where there’s the orphaned child who harbours a power and only needs a mentor to unlock it, blah blah blah. It’s getting old, writers, even if it still sells. In horror specifically, the nice couple who move out to the secluded house only to find it’s haunted with (fill in the blank… anything from vampires to horrible secrets) that they must vanquish to save their lives/marriage/family/sanity… yeah, I could live without that, too.

11. Do you read reviews of your book and, if so, how do you handle negative feedback?

I do, and positive or negative, I love them all. Seriously.

I’ve had people get up and walk out of readings. My cousin told me she was putting my book down and never reading anything else of mine because she could “only handle so much madness”.

Last night, I had a person who’d agreed to review my books message me and tell me, due to one scene, they simply couldn’t go on.

That’s fine. I write horror. I write to horrify. I’ve done my job.

I handle negative feedback the way I handle positive feedback. Writing, like it or not, is art, and it’s highly subjective. I despise authors that everyone loves. I love authors that many can’t stand. We like what we like, and we dislike what we dislike. So, if someone tells me I’m fantastic, I take that with a grain of salt. I’m all right, but I don’t think I’m fantastic. And if someone tells me I suck, again, I’m all right, but I don’t think I suck.

If the feedback can point to specifics, and a case is made in regard to the writing working or not, then I’ll consider it, and hold on to it for future writing. It’s all I can do.

But yeah, I’ll happily take it all. I got into a field where I create something, then share it to the world. I’m not going to hide from those that don’t like it. I want to know. Like Mellencamp sang, I’m here for the full catastrophe of life.

12. What are some of your quirks as a writer? Do you like to plot everything out or do you prefer to just “wing it” and see where the story takes you? Do you listen to music when writing and, if so, what do you listen to?

Here’s the way I describe my writing…

I look at it like I’m planning a road trip. Let’s say I’m planning on driving to DisneyWorld. So, I know where I’m starting, I know where I’m ending up, and I’m pretty sure of a few stops along the way.

But the minute to minute experience of the trip is new experiences and new road under my wheels.

So, in real terms, I bullet out a list of somewhere between 5 and 20 points, and then I write toward each one. I will rarely plan out much more than that, though I’ll have some individual scenes in my head.

Then, as I write, I have a lot of leeway, but I still know where I’m headed. And that, for me, is where the magic happens. Like I described above with that traumatic scene that left me in tears, I often start writing, then just trust my fingers to type out some really good stuff that it finds rattling around in the back of my brain that I didn’t even know was there.

When I write, I can’t have interruptions, but I do want music playing. What I listen to depends on what I’m writing.

When I wrote Out for Blood (book two of The Aphotic series), it takes place in summer of 1981, so I limited my playlist to any music that might have been playing at that time. Nothing past ‘81.

When I wrote a short story inspired by a song, I listened to that song on repeat.

For others, it’s been stuff like Pink Floyd and Airbag, or it’s been loud and angry like Godsmack and Alice in Chains. In a couple of cases, it’s been classical orchestral music by Mozart and Chopin.

It really depends on the mood I’m trying to achieve.

13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had when it comes to writing and what advice would you give to new writers?

It’s all quotes…

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?” – Robert Schuller

“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.” – John Steinbeck

“If it doesn’t hurt while you’re writing it, you haven’t dug deep enough.” – Unknown

As for advice for new writers… all of the above, and also, read! Read a lot. Read everything. Read good stuff and bad stuff. And most importantly, read outside your genre. You’ll learn from all of it. Oh, and the whole “bum in chair” thing, too.

14. What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any new books or stories?

What’s next?

Over the first eight months of 2023. I’ve got the last four books of this hexalogy to release, one every two months from February 1st for book three to August 1st for book six.

Well, I’m co-authoring a book with a brilliant author that I want to finish this coming year. It’s our second, and we have a third teed up right behind it. They’re all inter-related, but wildly different. One’s very gothic, and involves the classic monsters… Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, etc. The other is much more contemporary and involves the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They’re a lot of fun to write.

Aside from that, I’ve got a haunted house story that I’m about halfway through that I also want to finish soon.

I’ve got an old novella that I’ve got some ideas on expanding into a full novel.

I was also quite surprised to realize I’ve amassed enough short stories to release two full collections.

And finally, I’ve also got a non-fiction project that unfortunately I can’t say much about, but it’s sad and inspiring, horrifying and uplifting, and just an incredible story. So, yeah, I’m a busy guy right now!

15. Finally, feel free to plug your social media, website, and links to Amazon, GoodReads, and other relevant sites below, and detail any current offers available for your book/s:

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