This week, we’re delving into paranormal horror – my favourite genre. Fellow Musa author, Keith Pyatt has joined us to talk about his newly released novel, Above Haldis Notch.
About Keith Pyeatt
Keith Pyeatt is an engineer from Texas who became a novelist in Vermont and now lives in Tucson, Arizona. He writes paranormal thrillers — what he calls “horror with heart” — and he has three novels published with small presses. His novels are high concept thrillers with strong paranormal elements and plenty of psychological and physical tension, but the main focus is always on the characters.
Above Haldis Notch – Physical death is tragic, but the death of a spirit is a life forever lost.
Two neighboring families–one loving and respected in the community, the other made dysfunctional by abuse and scandal–must join forces to save a small Vermont town from a vindictive spirit who threatens not only their lives but also their afterlives.
Welcome to my blog, Keith. I’m so chuffed to have the opportunity to chat about your new book Above Haldis Notch. Perhaps you could start by telling us a little bit about it.
Glad to. Above Haldis Notch is an afterlife thriller/paranormal horror novel that fits right into my horror with heart brand. It’s set in the rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, US, where I lived for a decade and where I began writing fiction. The novel embraces that area, just like I did.
The main character, Jenna, learns she’s clairvoyant when her recently deceased mother contacts her from the afterlife, pleading for help. A vindictive spirit is not only killing residents of Haldis Notch, it’s catching their spirits in the afterlife, intent on killing the part of us that’s supposed to live on after our bodies die. The spirits of both Jenna’s parents are in jeopardy, as are those of her neighbors and friends. To save them, Jenna must learn who is responsible, why he’s doing this, and how. The trapped spirits grow desperately weak, so there’s little time to act, but Jenna’s energy is divided. The vengeful spirit keeps her on the defensive by threatening more people she loves, and if anyone else dies now, their essence will perish in the afterlife with those already trapped.
My goodness, poor Jenna. It sounds like she’s pitted against a relentless antagonist. Can you tell us a little bit more about your MC, Jenna?
Jenna comes from a loving, supportive family, and she is very family centered. That love of family drives her, especially since her family is under constant attack in this novel. Family influence is an ongoing theme in the story, as well as a driver. Jenna’s “pillar of the community” family lifts her to become a better person, and her love for them keeps her motivated. Her best friend’s family is a stone around his neck that makes it difficult to even stand up straight. I loved exploring that difference in those characters.
Do the names of your characters have special meanings, or do you just pick them out of thin air?
If a perfect name doesn’t spring to mind, I use baby naming websites. That means I use baby naming websites a lot. Sometimes I simply look for names that sound like they fit the characters. Other times I look at the meanings behind the names. Above Haldis Notch is an afterlife novel, so I searched for names that had something to do with spirits. Haldis, I remember, means stone spirit, a perfect name for a centerpiece of my novel, the natural notch between mountains in Vermont that’s also a spot where the boundary between life and afterlife is thin. A form of the name Jenna, my protagonist, means something like white spirit. Ady or a form of that name means something like nurturing spirit. Ady is Jenna’s grandmother, and she’s also clairvoyant and teaches Jenna in many ways.
Another trick I use, especially for last names, is to peruse the phone book. In northern Vermont, many families are French Canadian, and their family names reflect that.
The phone book is a great idea! I may just try that in the future.
So, Keith, when did you discover you wanted to write, and how did you get started?
I like telling this story. I was a manager at an electric utility in Vermont, and my assistant challenged me to write a short story. The only requirement was that the good guys had to win. We weren’t seeing that outcome in the real world often enough to suit us, so I agreed. She wrote a clever short story, four or five pages long. It was great, with a beginning, middle, and satisfying end. I wrote seven or eight pages, and I was still introducing the first characters and the conflict.
I put the story on hold, tried to forget it, but my assistant pestered me for an entire year to finish it. Finally, I started working on it one Friday evening after work. Turns out, the idea had been percolating in my mind for a year, and it was ready to come out. Once I began writing, I couldn’t stop. I wrote nearly every waking moment for the entire weekend. I got up early and wrote every morning before leaving the cabin for work, I raced home and wrote every night, and I wrote until I couldn’t see straight on weekends. Three weeks later, I finished writing my first novel. As you might imagine, the writing itself sucked. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was encouraged because it was structured like a novel, had interesting characters, a good pace (despite all the telling instead of showing), and a coherent plot. The best part was that writing it ignited a passion in me. I’ve been writing fiction ever since.
That is a great story. I’m always amazed at how the subconscious mind can work away behind the scenes to produce a story.
From your first foray into writing, how did you make the leap to become a published author?
It’s been a long journey. I tried for years to get an agent to represent me to the big publishers. At first, I wasn’t really ready, but I didn’t know that then. But I was also working hard on learning my craft. I read books on writing, participated in critique groups, wrote new novels, and constantly returned to earlier novels to revise them–yet again–as my skill level increased. Even when I really was ready, I couldn’t land an agent. I rarely even got one to request material from my queries. The ones who did respond often offered praise, which was nice, but the praise was always followed by the dreaded however… I kept hearing that paranormal thrillers were a tough sell unless from an established name. Or they liked it but it was hard to define, and they had no contacts to sell it. I write what I like, and I didn’t want to change it, so I eventually queried small presses. I’ve had much better luck there, and I’m having fun working with them.
I’m always keen to find out if an author is a plotter or a pantser. Spill the beans, Keith.
I’m a plotter, but I’ve found through trial and error that a rough outline is better for me than a detailed one. If the outline is too extensive, I tend to just follow the outline, without exploring opportunities or expanding the story or characters beyond my initial intent. On the other hand, without an outline of any kind, I wander around, stall out, and end up wondering where the heck I’m going with this novel.
Before I begin writing first draft, I need to know where to start, where I’m going, and some major points in the middle, usually turning points or plot twists or big revelations. That’s pretty loose for a plotter, but I like thrashing my way forward, as long as I know which way forward is. All the unexpected happenings and characters and twists make writing more fun, and I end up with a better novel than I could have outlined.
The other thing that works for me is to re-plot if needed. If thrashing my way forward leads me somewhere I hadn’t intended, I decide whether I need to get the story back on track or re-plot it. I try to give myself the flexibility to be as creative as I want to be, but I always have a direction and destination in mind, even if they change along the way.
Do you have a favoured POV?
I favor close third person. I enjoy really snuggling up to my characters when I write, feeling what they feel, thinking what they think. Sometimes I think my eyes dilate right along with my characters as I write.
Wow. What a beautiful way of describing your affinity with characters.
Earlier you talked about learning the craft of writing. Have you ever taken a writing class, and do you belong to a critiquing group or have a critiquing partner?
I’ve read and studied several writing books. I haven’t taken formal writing classes since college, other than for technical writing, but I’ve learned a great deal through writers’ organizations and conferences. Critique groups and critiquing partners have been a huge asset to me and my writing, and they continue to help me today.
As I mentioned, I began writing while living in an extremely rural area. I tried to find a local group of writers, one time driving 45 miles to a library where I heard writers sometimes met once a month. No one showed up. So I went online and joined several groups that swapped critiques online. I benefitted greatly, and not just from being critiqued. Critiquing others is a wonderful way to become a better writer. From those groups, I have writer friends I’ve remained in contact with for 14 or 15 years, and I’ve never met them. One writer, Joylene, was the very first person to critique me. To this day, despite that we’ve never me, I consider her a close friend. She’s also been my critique partner ever since. I’m reading her latest novel now and offering comments, in fact. She’ll return the favor for me when I’m ready.
Here’s something else that’s a fun memory. Early on, when I was eager to share my new novel (novel #2) with someone, I met a woman named Heather in a chatroom. This was back in the 90’s, when social chatrooms were new, or at least new to me. I told her I write novels and asked if I could email her a chapter. She read it and asked for more. I ended up sending her the entire novel, one chapter at a time, usually one a day. Then I did the same with the next novel. These novels were already written and edited many times when I sent them, but I’d go through and edit each chapter again just before sending them. I found my editing skills sharpened, I guess because I knew someone I liked and whose opinion I respected was waiting to read it and tell me what she thought. That process helped me a lot. And a big bonus for me: I’m also still friends with Heather all these years later.
So the internet has been very good for me. I’ve belonged to face-to-face critique groups too, and they’re great and I have friends from those as well, but online groups are a better fit for my needs. I don’t belong to a critique group now, but I do critique and get critiqued over on a writers’ website called Litopia. I’m known as bump there (short for bump in the night), so say hey if you belong to Litopia and you see me.
Are you working on another book at the moment? Can you tell us about it?
I’m writing first draft on a novel that’s kind of a dark fantasy. It has disfigured sirens, strange and dangerous critters, love, lust, greed, addiction, and a hero who resembles a young Lyle Lovett in a tool belt. It’s been on hold for a while, but I’m about ready to dig back in.
Thank you so much for providing us with such detailed answers. I’m sure readers will join me in wishing you every success with Above Haldis Notch.
Please write a comment below to let Keith know how much you’d enjoyed the interview. Perhaps you have a pressing question that I failed to ask. Don’t be shy. Write your question in the box, and Keith will be more than happy to provide an answer.
In addition to Above Haldis Notch, Keith has two other published novels that are worth checking out.
Struck – Lightning isn’t always an act of nature. Sometimes it’s a calling.
When lightning strikes Barry Andrews as he hikes among petroglyphs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the surge of energy awakens abilities he’s carried since birth. Easy-going Barry must accept his role as warrior, unlock ancient secrets from the Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon, and save the earth.
Dark Knowledge – When good and evil intertwine, taking one means accepting the other.
When a mentally challenged man named Wesley absorbs bits of knowledge from a beckoning world inside his mind, dark instincts tag along, thrusting him into an evil contest where he is both contestant and the prize Satan hopes to win. The further Wesley progresses, the more difficult it is to tell good from evil and the higher the stakes become. What must he sacrifice to save mankind: his life or his soul?