Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, E.F. Schraeder – An admirer of strange wonders, sleights of hand, and carousels, E. F. Schraeder writes poetry and fiction that is often inspired by not quite real worlds.
Thanks so much, E.F., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
E.F. Schraeder: I usually write reality adjacent stories that involve elements of mystery and quiet horror. Almost all the fiction I write includes speculative elements, often paranormal, into otherwise believable worlds.
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
EFS: I spent a lot of time in Sandusky, Ohio, at and around Cedar Point, Hotel Breakers, the Merry Go Round Museum, and other spots while I was working on the story collection Ghastly Tales of Gaiety and Greed. All the usual research like libraries and location visits were quite a lot of fun. I think the weirdest aspect of researching was the day I spent driving out to Johnson’s Island to visit the Stockade Cemetery across from the amusement park Cedar Point. It’s a quiet, off the beaten path destination that carries a certain reputation as a local haunt. I didn’t see any ghosts, but I didn’t stay past dusk either. That said, it was easy to imagine why those legends have persisted.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
EFS: I write everything down- good ideas, bad ideas, poem ideas, all of it! It’s all fuel. I have notebooks full of doodles and project concepts. Some of those ideas get turned into outlines, and I usually like to let an idea simmer for a while before investing time into plot points and detailed character sketches.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
EFS: I’m a little bit of both. I loved digging into historical research for settings and themes, so some of that plants me in the plotter camp. For me having some of that background work helps keep me moving forward with a new project. I like to have a working outline and some background character work ready when I sit down to write a project, but I definitely go with the flow when it’s time to get the writing done.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
EFS: I tend to have a strong sense of both the character and their journey when I start a new project. One of my new projects was almost 100% a character who moved into my head, and I just had to come up with a story for her. For Liar it was a much more simultaneous evolution of concept and character.
JSC: Where do you like to write?
EFS: I know folks who write at libraries or coffee shops, and sometimes I wish I could do that because it seems so pleasant, but I always work at home. I almost always have loud music on, and often have a wonderful dog or cat nearby trying to distract me.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
EFS: I definitely loved writing Rainey in Liar in part because she’s a horror geek. Writing the psychological spiral was really intriguing, and having a genre-aware character made Rainey a lot of fun to write.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
EFS: I play a few instruments, and I love to sing. In terms of instruments I play piano, guitar, and a couple other string instruments. Lately I’ve been noodling around with a theramin, which does not sound good yet (but it’s still loads of fun).
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
EFS: I’m 100% a ridiculously first thing in the morning person, so my drink of choice is very much an a.m. beverage: a double shot of espresso.
And now for E.F.’s latest book: Liar:
Who doesn’t crave a little escape? Dreaming of small town life and rural charm, Alex and Rainey find a deal on an old rustic home they can’t resist.
But soon after Rainey moves, her preoccupation with weird local history and the complications of living alone in the woods take a toll. Alex worries that the long nights and growing isolation are driving her stir crazy.
When the Sugar House is damaged and Rainey goes missing, Alex doesn’t know where to turn. Was it a storm, vandals, or something worse? What happened at the Sugar House?
The only thing worse than wondering is finding out.
And check out E.F.’s short story collection, too:
Ghastly Tales Of Gaiety And Greed: Unauthorized and Haunted Cedar Point (2020)
Excerpt – Liar
All we wanted was a cabin in the woods. We didn’t want this story.
From this vantage point, it was hard to believe a horror afcionado missed such a catalog of unheeded warnings and ignored signs. In a haunting tale it was easy to spot: an early sighting of a tense cat or dog standing at the front door, whining, pacing, avoiding the house. Or a bird at the window, tapping. A small thing, no bigger than a fist. Some poor animal that became a symbol to foreshadow all the bad shit about to go down. A small animal life anchoring one terrible thing: vulnerability.
When the animal whined or worried, and it would, the audience or reader or whoever the witness was, tensed up right along with them. Instant empathy, that was what the animal provided in so many stories about people getting into houses that had bad energy or ghosts or whatever. Cheap shots. Manipulation. And when the poor animal sufered and died, and it would, that death was a sucker punch. An easy, emotional tug by some writer who thought it’d be original to use an animal as shorthand, a moment in a story.
Don’t worry. I hate those tricks. No dead animals here. That was a hell of a way to start. Negative, right? Makes you wonder about the narrator. Is she or isn’t she? Crazy, I mean. At the core, that question frames some of the best hauntings. Maybe that was the question at the center of this one, too. LIAR: Memoir of a Haunting.
But that wasn’t where we started.
Once upon a time, Alex and I wanted to change our lives. Who didn’t? Imagine an acre or two. A diferent pace and a new place. After years of hostile state policies, we were ready for a break. State law made it clear couples like us didn’t count, and I had a portable job. The hope of friendlier laws, fresh air, and green space pushed us forward. As the eight-ball fortune teller would say: outlook good. Now we’re through it, out the other side, and I’ve collected a patchwork of memories and conversations into a collage. I did the best I could for someone who didn’t want to do it at all. Because when Alex suggested I write this story I didn’t want, our story, I resisted.
“There’s no story,” I said. “Nothing happened.”
My mouth tightened.
No matter how I shifted the pieces around they didn’t ft. Either that or I didn’t want to look at them too long. Fear brews when you look too long at any one thing, and fear wins.
Alex hook her head. “Are you kidding me? Everything was bizarre out there—I mean, I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know how you spent a night out there alone, let alone fve years.”
I’m built for hostile situations, like all good Final Girls. Alex stared like she was looking at me for something. Not at, into. Something else in her eyes, too, not quite a question. A concern. I ignored it.
“Why? It was dark, and it was quiet. That’s it.” I shrugged.
“There was a strange sensation. Like—” She paused. I held my breath. I knew exactly what she was going to say.
“A presence.” And there it was.