Friday, June 19, 2015

Drowning Sorrows with Vanessa Morgan

Recently I had the pleasure of reading author Vanessa Morgan’s horror novel, Drowned Sorrow. If you like your thrillers with creepy ambiance, unexpected twists and a plot that’s truly original (I know I do!), then what’re you waiting for? Get thee hence to Amazon where you’re one clicky away from thrills, chills and multiple water spills (that’ll make more sense after you’ve read the book).

So I just knew I had to grill Vanessa on Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley.

SRW: Hey, Vanessa, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s get the rote stuff out of the way first. Tell us a little about Drowned Sorrow, light on the spoilers, natch.

VM: It’s the story about a mother who has just lost her son in a tragic accident for which she is partly to blame. She becomes overprotective with her daughter, leading to a lot of tension. When the two women go on holiday together, the fights between them increase and the girl is doing all that she can to avoid her mother. However, there’s something very creepy going on in this village, something that has to do with the water. If Megan doesn’t react quickly, she might lose a second child.

SRW: One thing I truly loved about Drowned Sorrow is that it’s a bonafide horror book. So many of the books posing as horror these days are thinly disguised paranormal romances, angsty YA navel-gazers or plain ol’ thrillers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I saw somewhere that a reviewer called you the “female Stephen King.” Disregarding the inherent sexism in that term, I say to you “Huzzah!” The writing world needs more horror authors. Do you intend to stay firmly planted in the genre? Is it your first literary love? Or are you ready to go through a sloppy break-up?

VM: Together with cats, horror will always be my great love. I have several ideas for future horror novels, but I want to explore other genres too (maybe that’s the cheating before the sloppy break-up). I’ve recently written a drama short film about an elderly couple (Next to Her) and a cat book (Avalon). All of my books have one thing in common, though: they explore a dark side of humanity that many of us prefer to deny.

SRW: While reading Drowned Sorrow (every time I type that, I want to pull an “Elmer Fudd” and call it “Dwowned Sowwow” for some reason. Is it just me?), it struck me how cinematic your writing is. I can easily envision DS as a film. The prose flows fluidly, each scene ending on a cinematic stinger, the way cinemaphiles like it. Knowing a little about you, this is a loaded question, I suppose, but tell our readers about your connection to the world of movies.

VM: I’ve loved movies ever since I was a toddler, especially the horror kind. Contrary to many authors, I’ve never set out to be a novelist. I wanted to be a screenwriter. When I didn’t succeed, I decided to turn my stories into novels as a way to get them out anyway. Once I released my first novel, Drowned Sorrow, several directors and producers were suddenly interested to turn it into a film. From then on, I’ve had several movie adaptations of my stories. It’s strange how life goes sometimes.

SRW: Very cool! (I know I wanted to see Vanessa's films, but they're only available thus far at film festivals). 

Okay, this might count as a minor spoiler (it’s hard to get around it), but let’s chat about “water.” I don’t generally equate water as being necessarily creepy, but you made it so. I particularly love the opening scenes with the imagery of the hotel with water dripping down the walls, peeling at the wallpaper. All senses are engaged; I could practically smell the mold, feel the humidity. Are you afraid of water? A closeted hydrophobic? (Or did you just experience a particularly crummy night at a Motel Six?)

VM: Water doesn’t scare me at all. On the contrary, the proximity of water revitalizes me. Drowned Sorrow started with the characters and how they deal with sorrow and loss. The water was symbolic to the story. Water represents (re)birth, the tears of grief, and emotional cleansing (sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?). Of course, I made sure to use that symbolism in the creepiest way possible.

SRW: The entire town of Moonlight Creek is unsettling. Like a movie, you take your time setting up the locale, the mood, the atmosphere. All of which, I think, are important to establish horror. Toss someone into a horrific situation without any build-up, it’s hard to get too excited. So, you (and the readers) know this spooky little burg well. Now spill (not water, though, please)…what town inspired Moonlight Creek?

VM: I’m sure it won’t surprise you when I say that the setting comes from a movie. Do you know Let’s Scare Jessica to Death? The town from that film is the town I described in Drowned Sorrow. I also paid homage to that film in another way, but I can’t tell you how, because it would be a major spoiler.

SRW: Hey, not only do I know that film well, Vanessa, but right now I'm eyeing the DVD from my love-seat!

These days, publishers and agents insist that the leading characters be likable. I didn’t particularly find Megan all that likable, to be honest, and I actually found that refreshing. She’s self-centered, career-obsessed (to the detriment of her family), actually admits to avoiding her family in the past. Today’s “alpha woman”. Now, Megan does go through a changing arc, but it’s hard for her to bury her past, a major theme of the book. Did you intentionally set out to write a somewhat unlikable character, flaws, warts and all? (Or am I just, you know, bringing my baggage to the check-in?)

VM: Absolutely. All my main characters are flawed. It’s part of being human. I know several people who love their spouse and children, but who feel ‘trapped’ and unhappy because they can’t do the things they love anymore. Most of them choose their family and remain frustrated, but others reach a breaking point and become selfish. The same goes for Megan. She adores her family, but they are equally a burden to her.

SRW: The book reminds me of The Wicker Man, Pines, and other closed community spook-fests. And I’m a sucker for them. Put a character into a strange environment and let the reader experience it along with the protagonist. Sure-fire chills. You’re tapping into a deep-rooted anxiety amongst humanity: a fear of anything different. Okay, put on your pretentious cap and wax allegorical for a bit…

VM: It’s funny you mention Pines. I’ve never read the books, but I just started watching the TV series (Wayward Pines). While watching the first episode, I immediately told my boyfriend, “This is so much like Drowned Sorrow. The town, the way people are trapped there, how they pretend to be happy and casual while they’re not, …”

And The Wicker Man is definitely one of my favorite genre films.

SRW: Jenna, Megan’s teenage daughter, is a scrappy heroine, one who managed not to grate on the nerves in the least. (Usually, in books, “scrappy” equates to “annoying.”) I was pulling for her, possibly more than for Megan. Who do you see as the heroine, Megan or Jenna? Answering both is cheating.

VM: Drowned Sorrow is about Megan and how she deals with loss, entrapment, and sadness. But it was important to get the reader inside Jenna’s head. The better they knew her, the more I would be able to shock them in the end.

SRW: I’m sitting on the casting couch. For the movie of Drowned Sorrow, I’d like to see Julianne Moore as Megan; India Ennenga (from The Returned and Treme) as Jenna. Both very fine actresses and they look like they could be related, too. Let’s see…for the teenage boy love interest, I’m thinking of Justin Bieber for marquee value. (Kidding!) Who do you want to cast? Or, um, has it been cast already?

VM: Actually, I had Naomi Watts in mind when writing Drowned Sorrow. Strange that you mention Julianne Moore because many friends compare me with her. And, oooh, India Ennega is a PERFECT choice for Jenna. Have you never considered becoming a casting director? Not sure who could play the teenage boy love interest, though. Definitely not Justin Bieber, haha.

As I mentioned before, I got several directors and producers interested in Drowned Sorrow (but the film never got made). I think they planned to have Alison Carroll as Megan, and Norman Reedus as… I don’t even know, maybe the hotel owner or the rock star dad.

SRW: Norman Reedus, you say? Cool. (Now, um, if you ever should meet him, Vanessa, please PLEASE tell his character on "The Walking Dead" to take a shower, kay?)

Along these lines, tell folks about your movie work. And what else is up for you, either in book or movie form.

VM: So far, two movies have been based on my stories: A Good Man (about an altruistic vampire) and The Strangers Outside (killer monks). A third film, Next to Her, is currently in the making.

I’m also working on my first movie reference book for which I’m collaborating with several talented writers. It’s about animal attack movies. You know, the kind like Jaws, The Birds, and many others that no one heard of. It’ll be the first of many movie reference guides.

SRW: Hey, I'll have a chapter in that book and I betcha' the movie I chose to write about is the most obscure in the book ("Snakes!").

Now go grab Vanessa's book, already. You won’t be sorry. Drowned Sorrow at Amazon.


  1. Intriguing. Looks like I found another book for the TBR list.

  2. Glad to hear that, Heather. Have lovely weekend :-)

  3. Great to see Vanessa here! I loved the interview and would really like to read the book! :)

  4. A female Stephen King - that's quite a compliment. I like the idea of a claustrophobic town and what that would do to someone. Congratulations on your success, Vanessa!