Vincent Stoia is the author of two horror novels set in China, Jin Village and Dark Blossom. Dark Blossom tells the story of a courtesan caught up in a struggle involving various gods, ghouls and the imperial court. Jin Village describes an archaeological dig in a remote mountainous corner of the country; the archaeologists uncover – and unintentionally reanimate – a gruesome historical mystery. Originally from Boston, Vincent has since 2004 lived in Taiwan and Japan.
What was the inspiration for Jin Village?
I’ve always had an interest in both history, which I studied in school, and horror. When I was living in Taiwan and ready to start writing seriously, I considered doing something about an abandoned village in Europe. I thought it would be cool to combine elements of mediaeval Europe with horror. The problem was I didn’t have more than a layman’s understanding of European history or culture. Eventually it dawned on me that because I was doing a master’s in China Studies at the time, it made infinitely more sense to base my book in China. Looking back, I can’t believe I considered basing it in Europe.
What background reading did you do for Dark Blossom?
I wrote it a few years ago, so I’d be hard pressed to give you specific sources at this point. Since I was doing my master’s in Taipei at the time, I had access to the university’s libraries. There was a period of six months when I did more research on my book than on my thesis.
For information on China during the Tang Dynasty, I leaned heavily on Charles Benn’s Daily Life in Traditional China. It’s a wonderful book, with information on everything from how people dressed to how they lit fires. I also raided the books on Chinese mythology to learn about Zhong Kui, Jigong and the other deities that appear in my novel.
Can you tell us about your new novel?
I can’t be too specific, but this one also takes place in the Tang Dynasty. It’s a mystery novel rather than a horror, although it certainly has elements of horror.
What is the target audience for your novels?
Marketing has never been my thing, so it’s hard for me to say. I think a tough aspect of my career is that my books are hard to categorize. Are they horror? Historical fiction? Something else? I suppose this is a longwinded way of saying I don’t think too much about this question. I hope that if I can produce a good story, people who like good stories will come to it.
How do you feel about the current state of horror writing?
I’m quite frustrated and dismayed by the current state of horror. The marketing I see so often presents horror as one-dimensional. You’ve got blood, guts and nothing else. I don’t think horror has to be Shakespeare, but it can be more interesting and compelling than just blood spattered on a wall. If all that’s all a book/film/TV show has, it gets very boring very fast. In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with violence in a book if that’s your thing, but there should be more than just violence. Unfortunately, lots of people in the horror world seem to think their only job is to manufacture screams. However, I think there are a lot of up-and-coming writers who might change that in the future.
What are your writing habits?
Stephen King has a book called On Writing. Anyone who wants to be a writer should read it. I’ve read it a few times, and I follow the system he sets down. When I’m writing a novel I try to put down at least 2,000 words a day. When the first draft is done, I let it sit for at least six weeks. After that I pick it up and read it in one sitting. My first drafts are always a mess – they’re fraught with inconsistencies, unnecessary scenes, gaping plot holes, etc. So, the rewriting process for me is pretty simple. I just go over the book again and again and again until I almost have the damn thing memorized. I think I went through Dark Blossom at least 25 times. The same probably goes for the book I just finished.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Stephen King is my favorite writer. I also like H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, Piers Anthony and Roald Dahl. Some of Dahl’s adult stories are very dark, and very good.
What are some Asian subjects and stories that you’d like to see written about?
I think foot binding is something that people really need to know more about. It was one of the great atrocities of the last five hundred years, and it seems so few people know about it. In Asia people have a passable knowledge of it, and of course it’s been heavily studied in academia. However, outside those circles it seems few people even know what it was. I certainly knew nothing about it when I first moved to Taiwan in 2004. In fact, I think I may have only first heard about it when I read your book on Taiwan, Formosan Odyssey. I also think the Great Leap Forward needs a lot more attention.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m actually working on the first draft of a science fiction novel. That’s a genre I’ve never really explored before, so I decided to give it a try. I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone a little. We’ll see how it goes. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will turn into something workable, but at this stage you never know if it will go pear shaped.
Why did you move from Taiwan to Japan?
This one is pretty simple. I’m leaving Asia for good in August of this year. I’ll be moving back to the States. I’ve always wanted to live in Japan, so I decided to come here for a year before going back to the US. I figured that if I don’t do it now, I never will.
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To learn more about Vincent Stoia and his books, visit vincentstoia.com.
Read my review of Dark Blossom.