A New York City native, Tom Calen holds a degree in English and spent several years in public relations before abandoning all reason and deciding to write full-time. He is the author of the bestselling horror series, The Pandemic Sequence. His seventh novel, Sarah of the Romani, was published earlier this year. In early 2014, Tom moved to Nicaragua, where he is soaking up the sun while working on his next book. Tom is an Active member of both the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers, Inc. In his time with the HWA, Tom has overseen the successful Horror Selfies and Alone Is Scary campaigns, and serves as the organization’s communications coordinator. In 2015, he received the HWA’s Richard Laymon Award for his work with the communications team.
Tom was recently kind enough to be interviewed by ScifiPulse to discuss his career and his work with the Horror Writers Association. For more information on Tom, please visit his homepage.
Nicholas Yanes: Looking back at your life, what were some of the stories you enjoyed that pushed you to become a writer?
Tom Calen: I got my first taste of a book’s power when I was very little and read Charlotte’s Web. It was my introduction to the concept of death and my reaction was quite powerful; so much so that I still remember the weight of it. Not long after, I discovered A Wrinkle in Time, which hooked me into the scifi/fantasy realm. Another standout, The Power of One, blew me away with its art of storytelling. But really, there have been many over the years that stayed with me. I was very lucky to have parents who made a weekly trip to the library a reward, and a handful of amazing teachers who encouraged my creativity and exploration of literature.
Yanes: Your bio says you spent several years in the business world before you left it to become a writer. What did you do for a profession? And, what finally pushed you to leaving it for the world of paper and prose?
Tom: After college, I went to work for a public relations firm in Manhattan. While the agency’s focus was on pharm/biotech, I was able to work with quite a few celebrities who served has spokespeople for consumer-education campaigns. As you can imagine, for someone just out of college, it was a pretty nice gig. In time, though, the “shine” wore off and I wanted something “more”. That time, and the experience it offered, was incredibly valuable. Years later, here I am handling the PR for a writers association. Full circle, I guess.
Yanes: With years of experience under your belt, what do you think is the hardest part about being a writer?
Tom: Promotion. I’ve been on the self-published side and the traditionally published side, and the biggest challenge is publicity. Many of the smaller presses don’t have the funds to support even a small promo campaign. For self-pubbers, there’s usually a lack of money as well, coupled with not knowing how to self-promote, or not being comfortable with that task. My PR background has been an asset in that regard. But, it’s a never-ending process. What worked this year probably won’t work next year. So, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting promo opportunities.
Yanes: You are an active member of the Horror Writers Association. With people being able to so easily network online, can you take a moment to explain why horror writers should still become HWA members?
Tom: HWA, like any organization of similar nature, is only as good as you want it to be. By that I mean, simply joining will probably not make much of a difference, though it does give you access to some great information. But for me, it’s the volunteering that gets you connected. Shortly after my membership application was accepted, I responded to a call for a volunteer. Through that, I got to work with the late HWA president Rocky Wood, which then led to involvement with the communications team, which then led to the communications coordinator position.
By volunteering, I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing folks who have been more than willing to answer writing/publishing questions, lend a sympathetic ear, or simply enjoy a good laugh over shared experiences.
Yanes: On this note, can you share a story of how HWA has helped you build your career?
Tom: For me, the greatest benefit has been the connections. I’ve met veterans and newcomers, and both groups have really gone the extra mile as far as support, guidance, etc. I was very fortunate to work as closely as I did with Rocky during the last three months of his life. His dedication and love of the genre and the HWA was extremely inspiring.
Our current president, Lisa Morton, is pulling out all the stops to build on Rocky’s efforts. She has a wonderful vision of the HWA’s future, and I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.
Yanes: One of the biggest changes to the literature industry is the rise of self-publishing. How has HWA responded to the increase in the number of horror writers self-publishing?
Tom: Last year, HWA members voted to open its membership to qualifying self-published authors. That decision brought in many fresh voices that now have the opportunity to take advantage of the HWA Mentorship program, various scholarships, and the knowledge and overall community of some of the biggest names in the genre.
Yanes: The Horror Writers Association will be presenting StokerCon 2016 in Las Vegas. Could you share a little as to just how important this event will be to the writing community?
Tom: First off, HWA hopes this will be important to both the writing community and the broader community of horror lovers. But for the writing community, we hope to make this more than just a weekend to share a drink at the hotel bar with other writers—we also want to supply structured networking opportunities, educational programs for writers at all career levels, and the wide camaraderie that can help a writer’s career.
Yanes: StokerCon 2016 will be hosting a sub-event called “Horror University.” What was the motive for creating this event? Also, what kind hazing will take place at Horror University?
Tom: Fortunately, we are sorority and fraternity free, so hazing will be confined to some possibly intense grammar correcting. But seriously. . .Horror University represents HWA’s commitment to education. I don’t think there’s ever been an event before that offered more than a dozen hands-on workshops covering various aspects of the art of horror writing, all taught by top professionals, and an equal number of special presentations in which writers will receive crash courses in useful topics, everything from police procedure to paranormal investigating.
Yanes: What are your long term hopes and goals for StokerCon and Horror University?
Tom: We’d like to see StokerCon/Horror University become an annual gathering that draws both the genre’s top names and new voices who are looking for ways to take their career to that next level. We also hope that by including the gala presentation of HWA’s celebrated Bram Stoker Awards at each year’s event, we can accomplish our core mission of promoting the genre and expanding public awareness.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are working on that fans can look forward to?
Tom: As for my personal projects, I’m working on my eighth book, A Quiet Sleep. It’s the second installment in the Letellier Thrillers; the first being Sarah of the Romani. The series follows Maine State Police Detective Ian Letellier and his team through investigations with a supernatural angle. I’ve built a great relationship with an actual ME State Police detective who has been a wonderful resource.
On the HWA side, we just launched our “Alone Is Scary” campaign to support the ASPCA’s Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month. Rocky and I discussed the concept before he passed, and it’s a thrill to bring the project to reality. During the month of October, HWA chapters will hold events at local animal shelters, one of which will win a $250 gift card to Petco. We’re also adding to our very successful Horror Selfies site (www.horrorselfies.com), seeking submissions featuring rescue animals. At the end of the month, we’ll award a random winner an ebook prize pack valued at over $1,000 from ChiZine Publications.
Remember, for more information on Tom, please visit his homepage.