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Cass Clarke - Grief Horror Debut and Great Advice!

Cass and I initially bonded over our fur babies, but we really strengthened that friendship during the most difficult time of my life: last year when we knew my grandpa didn't have much time left, when he passed, and in the absolute aftermath that followed. So many people were helpful to me during that phase, but the advice and assistance I received from Cass during the most acute points of my grieving process, are things I will never forget. They are a truly compassionate human being, and it turns out, they can also write one hell of a grief horror novella! I can't thank them enough for the support they offered me when I was fumbling my way through the fog, and I will cherish that forever!💜

1. What is your favorite (or most effective) way of trying to defeat writer's block?

Hmm, I try to take power away from the idea of writer's block -- it's not really a block in my way. (If only it was that easy -- I'd just kick it over.) The harder truth is: It's you. It's something inside you that's saying, "Nope!" Usually, if I sit with that resistance for a while, it helps me to hear where that's coming from in me. Is it fear? Am I too tired and need time to restore before creating? Does the idea not excite me enough? Do I need to keep searching until a thought stops me in my tracks to say, "Wait, hold on there..." Once I know why I don't want to do it, it's easier to solve how to approach that feeling. Scared? Outlines help root me in something tangible to grow. Tired? Really invest in fueling myself with music, long walks, and just playing the game of "what if..." I mostly play that "what if..." game on walks, "what if you reached out a hand to that shadow at night, but what you touched was solid? what then?..."

For those stuck in a stagnant place, I'd recommend looking up some articles and/or books on play therapy, as that's really what my "what if" game is -- letting your creative brain play with ideas, concepts, and stories before the critical judgment side of the brain squashes it all to pieces. There is always time for that side of the brain to axe up your little darlings but that time is certainly not at the very beginning of beginnings.

2. Is there anything in particular you hope readers take away from The Caretaker?

At some point, grief will find you. (If it already has, you certainly don't need me to tell you what comes next.) To those unversed in that language of loss -- it'll be a hard-hitting shift in perspective that makes up feel like down and down is somehow fucking sideways? You're utterly without a navigation system. On top of that, people get weird when you mention death, especially if they haven't been through a big loss. People still have parties and you're sitting there like, "Excuse me, fuck right off!! Don't you know someone, my someone, is missing?!" But Christmas still comes. So do Birthdays. That first year of losing makes every holiday feel like a punch in the gut. I know I wanted a road map on how to get through it.

Of course, that doesn't exist. But finding those to talk to will make you (and them) feel less alone. I hope people see Cara as the poster child for what not to do -- avoid, suppress, act out, drink too much, project, etc. -- and see that what ultimately heals her isn't any one thing or one person. She spent a lot of time with ghosts and hurting when all she needed to do was look at the support system she already had in place. But sometimes, grief makes assholes of us all -- that's ok, we're allowed that much -- but we have to hold ourselves accountable after and grow from that experience too. Don't be like Cara! Feel your feels! Find a grief cheerleader (someone who has been through it and can hold space for you moving through it)!

3. When did your love of horror start? Do you remember what your introduction to it was?

Watching Jaws with my dad at five years old. I became terrified of Great White Sharks and yet simultaneously obsessed with learning all I could about them too! I think that was my little brain's first exposure to feeling a kind of macabre joy -- realizing with great risks come great curiosities. Those are really the stories that hook me, where -- in whatever realm of horror it is -- I'm never quite sure what will happen. I want a story that will make me feel like I'm the person being told to stand still as they shoot a flaming arrow through an apple on my head. Whatever that is.

4. What did you feel was the scariest part of publishing your debut novella, The Caretaker? Anything, from starting writing to now.

I think I'm in the scary phase now -- promotion! The pitching, the writing, the walking and talking to myself through plot points -- that all felt incredibly healing and fun. So many possibilities! But I've never released a book before, so I have no idea how to self-promote and just try to be authentic and look for interesting people to collaborate with in the horror world.

5. What are your favorite sub-genres of horror movies, and some of your favorite films?

I love a good ghost story -- The Orphanage, Lake Mungo, A Tale of Two Sisters, Carnival of Souls, 2020's La Llorona, Pulse -- you name it, I've probably seen it in that sub-genre. There's just something so haunting and fascinating about the idea that we don't know what (or who) we leave behind and the implications that has on other characters and the world. Such juicy material to work with there in terms of character development! Ghosts give us themes like regret, longing, revenge... so many fun ideas pop up when the afterlife and life collide.

Also, I tend to gravitate more towards K-horror, as I like horror that directly embraces the idea that characters live in a multiethnic world of class systems filled with marginalization so things like poverty, racism, and religious (and cultural) clashes exist and are folded into the story. K-horror does that so well and with such dark humor (see: The Host or The Wailing) that's refreshing (while harrowing too) to see. American horror tends to water down and whiten everything in a way that loses a lot of story potential and misses the boat on why people want more inclusion in horror -- the world is much bigger than a ranch house with a white straight couple hating each other with children. Haven't sitcoms done that idea to death? Over it!

6. Do you feel like both reading and watching horror have played a part in developing your voice as a writer?

Yes! I treat both like gasoline fuel-ups... If I'm in a funk, I need to fill up the tank with something scary and daring to surprise me and get my gears turning on what I liked about it or how I would handle the material differently.

7. Please also send a picture of Lyra and tell us all about how precious she is🥹

How do I choose just one?! Lyra-Elvira is the sweetest babygirl-horror-punk who is about to turn 4 years old! Her best friend is our mailman named Billy: Every day he'll take her for a walk in the truck and let her explore for treats. She currently is playing the field but recently found a doggie named Sherman who she vibes with and likes to chase.

8. When you sit down for a horror binge, what kind of snacks do you go for?

Red wine & dark chocolate!

9. What horror creature is the most terrifying to you, and why?

Sharks! If I ever see one, it's all over.

10. In your experience, what is the most helpful thing(s) people in the community can do to help authors with new releases?

Hmm, definitely review and rate new books on Goodreads. That always helps!

But I think also when you're starting as an author, it just feels (though it's not totally true) like there's such a huge gap between you and established writers that you won't ever make up that difference in exposure. Sometimes it can be disheartening when you see the same names pop up again and again while you're still trying to break into a new world and juggling (likely) several jobs to do so -- so really champion new voices. Ask your local bookstore or library to carry their titles too. If you go to festivals, ask if certain publishers will have a booth -- you might spark an idea! If you ever are unsure, I surely don't mind people popping into my DMs to ask me questions! Interviews, reviews, podcasts -- any exposure helps and you never know which outlet or experience will lead new readers to you. Again, I'm very new to this so also am open to DMs for me to say, "Hey, what the fuck are you doing?"

Spoiler: I have no idea but it sure is wildly interesting to continue trying.

*Photos all provided by Cass Clarke*

Where to find Cass:

Twitter/X: @cass__clarke

Podcast's Twitter/X: @horrorhangover_

TikTok: @cass__clarke (barely use it, but really should start)

Haley's review of THE CARETAKER

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