Today, I’d like to welcome a very special guest! Rona Vaselaar is a short horror fiction author, active Redditor, and The NoSleep Podcast contributor. If you’re a fan of the podcast, you may know her as the author of “Down in the Library Basement“ and “I Love my Grandparents’ Fireplace“. As a writer, she draws inspiration from urban legends, gothic horror novels, and the realities of life in small-town Minnesota. In addition to being a writer, Rona is also an accomplished scholar. She graduated cum laude with Latin Honors from the University of Notre Dame with a major in Chinese earlier this year and she’s currently a graduate student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in China.
Marta: First of all, it’s a pleasure to have you on my blog! Let’s start with a simple warm-up question: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Rona Vaselaar: When I’m not writing, I enjoy watching horror movies and listening to music! My favorite band is Green Day. I also like taking walks through the city, just to see what kind of interesting places and people I can discover.
Do you remember the first time you decided to share your writing with others? How do you think you’ve evolved creatively since then?
The first time I shared my writing with a large audience was when I began posting on NoSleep. I had posted once or twice before but never anything serious. I had written a piece I was particularly proud of, titled “Riding the Beijing Subway” and I decided to put it on the Internet in the hopes of getting some feedback. Since then, I have become more confident in my writing, taking more risks and adapting to new styles. I have also become much better at accepting criticism and feedback.
A collection of your short stories, Colors of Death, Fifteen Tales of Horror, was published in 2015. Tell me a bit more about the experience of being a published author. How did you go down this route?
I had been a regular contributor with Thought Catalog for a few months at that point and I saw they offered publishing deals for some of their writers. I’d always dreamed of being a published author, so I took a risk and sent them a collection of my stories. They accepted it and we got to work right away. It’s been very interesting to see my name on the cover of an actual tangible book and the experience gave me a burst of confidence to keep working towards my eventual goal of publishing a novel.
Does being a graduate student leave any time for writing? Do you have a writing routine? What’s a typical day for you?
Finding time to write has always been a challenge, graduate student or not! Additionally, I am a somewhat sporadic writer and have never been able to adapt to a routine – there are times when I write ten stories a week, and times when I only write one story a month. When I’m feeling inspired, I typically tend to sit down and write the entire story in one sitting. Afterwards, I take a break before I begin the editing process. I am not a fan of editing, and that is the one thing I definitely need to improve on.
Let’s talk about your fiction for a moment. What genres of horror do you feel most drawn to as an author?
I’ve always been very attached to psychological horror. There’s something so terrifying yet alluring about mind-games, especially mind-games that you can’t hope to win. On a less serious note, I like the slasher genre and I especially enjoy slashers that twist typical plot conventions. Cherry Falls is an amazing film that defies slasher expectations, if anyone is interested!
The characters in your fiction often revisit places and stories from their childhood. What is it about that period in life that inspires you?
I think I’m most inspired by this period in my life because it was a very difficult time for me. Although I have a very loving family, many of us – myself included – were ostracized in my hometown and underwent a lot of discrimination and bullying from other people. This led me to develop a great attachment to the macabre, the outcast, and the taboo. Although I have always been naturally drawn to horror, my attraction to it intensified during this period. I think I often return to this period because that’s what I seek to convey with my stories – the loneliness, the melancholy, and also that sickening feeling of never belonging, of existing in a space that just isn’t quite right.
One of the major themes in your narratives is the complex emotional relationships between the character and the source of danger (I’m thinking about stories such as “The Ballad of Sadie and Madeline” and “I Love my Grandparents’ Fireplace“, but also “God Made Girls“). What is it about those complicated and very often contradictory emotions that fascinates you?
I have an intense love of villains. I tend to believe that the world isn’t really black and white – it’s composed of shades of grey with very few moral truths. You can make an argument for almost anything, if you really put your heart into it. I enjoy making my readers – and myself – fall in love with something you should hate. “I Love my Grandparents’ Fireplace” is a great example. Many people were actually angry with me for making the narrator feel an attachment to the monster. The thing is, those monsters are the scariest. The ones you can’t hate. Because they’re the ones that sneak past your defenses and get you.
What makes a great horror story then?
A great horror story has many different elements, but a few stick out to me. First of all, a great horror story knows how to use general plot devices without becoming derivative. A good plot twist is infinitely difficult to execute. I know I’ve often failed in this endeavor. I greatly respect anyone who can incorporate a plot twist successfully. Another important factor is the description. If an author is too descriptive, they take agency away from the reader. This is typically a bad thing because the most frightening nightmare will always be the one you see in your own head. Therefore, you want to leave a little to the reader’s imagination. Let them fill in the blanks and they’ll scare themselves better than you could ever have done on your own. Overall, though, a great horror story gives you that sinking feeling in your stomach, the one that stays with you for hours and forces you to think about the dark things we like to shy away from.
What’s the next step in your career?
I’ve begun noticing that I am gravitating out of the short story form. My stories are becoming longer and more involved. I have written a few novellas already, and am beginning to feel more comfortable in the format. I have also written a draft of a novel. It’s not particularly good – first tries at something like that rarely are – but it gave me an enormous feeling of accomplishment and helped me feel more comfortable with the form. I am hoping to write a novel during this year’s NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month], hopefully something worthwhile enough to self-publish. One day, I hope to be picked up by a publishing company. Until then, I’ll keep working hard to improve my writing!
Finally, if you could pass on a single piece of advice to yet-to-be-published authors out there reading this interview, what would it be?
I’m going to sort of cop-out on this one, because the best advice I’ve ever received – and can ever give – is to read Stephen King’s On Writing. His advice is applicable to authors of any genre. It is concise, informative, and peppered with hilarious stories. I have learned more from his book than any other writing article or book that I’ve read. I strongly recommend it to everyone.
Where can readers discover more about your work?
They can follow my Facebook page, @RonaVaselaar, which includes stories about my life that inspire my own work as well as pictures and general updates on my writings.
Rona’s collection of short stories, Colors of Death, Fifteen Tales of Horror, is available on Amazon and iBooks. If you want to listen to more stories written by Rona and brought to life by excellent voice actors, visit www.thenosleeppodcast.com.