CentraLit recently had the opportunity to speak with Tyson Hanks, a South/Central Illinois native, now living in Florida, who is the author of Greetings From Barker Marsh and the recently released Head Wounds. We were excited to get to connect with Tyson, as it is great to see native Illinoisians thriving in their passions. In the following interview, Tyson shares advice for writing and the horror genre, as well as his experience growing up very near to our homebase of Centralia.
This interview has been organized and edited for space and clarity.
CentraLit [CL]: How did growing up in the area impact your writing?
Tyson Hanks [TH]: I am so glad that you brought that up. Because, you know, as you were saying that that, you know, in that particular area, it’s not something that a lot of kids probably aspire to do when they grew up. I always, I always loved reading. You know, in English classes in school, I always loved when we would get a creative writing assignment or something, you know, I really got into that. And I always did well, I’m one of those guys where I loved English classes. And I always got A’s in every English class I took. And math was like, kryptonite to Superman… now where I’m going with this is, you know, as a kid, especially when I mean, I’ll throw it out there. I actually grew up in Sandoval, and you talk about not a lot to do, and not a lot around Central Illinois. There’s even less to do around Sandoval. And, you know, it’s, I hate to say that I didn’t get any support from teachers, but just nobody was really stoking that, that artistic fire for me. I mean, in that area, you either grew up to be a farmer, or you moved away, and you did something else. So, you know, I was convinced at a young age that I want to go into some kind of law enforcement. I did a year at Cass Gasquet college on a music scholarship. So at least I had enough artistic bone left in me that I was able to play music and pay for the first couple years of college. But in that time, I even went so far as to join the military. Because, again, law enforcement was what I wanted to do.
CL: Our goal is to inspire local writers and help them realize they don’t have to live in New York where the Big Publishers are. How’d you begin doing this as a full time career?
TH: When I got back [from the military], my mother and my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife of 15 years, they didn’t want me to pursue a career in law enforcement or the military. So of all things, I went into marketing, that’s what I got my bachelor’s degree and still wasn’t doing any creative writing, still had no idea that I wanted to be a writer. And then I spent the next 10 years really in marketing and sales, at one point was working for a fortune 50 company. And, quite frankly, I hated it. I realized that, you know, I thank God Uncle Sam paid for my college degree and I had no student loans, because I haven’t used my marketing degree. I don’t like it. I don’t like working in marketing, I’m probably destroying any chance I have of getting hired by a future marketing firm with this interview right now. But it’s okay… And then, in 2014, my wife and I took a vacation down to Miami. And she was five or six months pregnant at the time, I guess. And it just so happened that it was a really rainy day, couldn’t go to the beach, couldn’t go to the pool, there was nothing to do just laying around the room. And she was sound asleep. So I didn’t want to turn the TV on or make any noise. So I happen to have a yellow legal pad with me and I started scribbling out a short story and I thought what the hell you know, I’ve been reading a lot about this and you know, specifically horror magazines, that you can you can submit stuff to and I thought, maybe I’ll give this a shot. So over the course of that trip, we had another rainy day, we went down to the Key West, we had another rainy day down there, I finished the story at that hotel, and submitted it when I got back. And the first magazine that I submitted it to I got a rejection, which I kind of expected. The second magazine that I submitted it to, however, accepted it, and I was over the moon. So kind of fast forward. I think that particular magazine wound up publishing five or six of my short stories. I was submitting short stories, I self-published Greetings from Barker Marsh in 2016. And as fate would have it about [two months] after my sort of launch party, I had a particularly awful day at the office. And I came home and had a talk to my wife and I said I cannot do this anymore. I’m going to end up killing myself, you know, just the stress of this job, you know, my wife has a very, very good job and is very supportive. I couldn’t do any of this without her truly, financially or emotionally. But I said, you know what I’m throwing in the towel, I’ll figure out a way to make ends meet. And I’ll, I’m going to write for living. So I quit November first. And ironically, a month later, the company I was with laid off a ton of people from my department. So I think I would have been on the chopping block anyway, I just decided to do it my way. So ever since the fall of 2016, I’ve been writing more fiction. And honestly, most of my bills get paid because I do freelance work. I’ve ghost written, I’m actually going through writing a finance book, right now, there’s a reason I don’t have a finance degree. And we already touched on my affinity for math… So that’s how I got to this point, I had a few really bad days at a big corporation. And, you know, I was lucky enough that I quit on my terms. And I’m not rich, but I’m doing what I love now. So I hope that answered your question about what it was like being in Central Illinois with nothing around and how you get into this field, sometimes you just got to say ‘to hell with it’, and you know, rip the band aid off and take the punch. That’s what it boils down to.
CL: Your books are in the horror genre, what made you want to write horror?
TH: Reading horror. There’s tons of books out there. And even Stephen King, you know, his fantastic book On Writing even if you’re not into the horror genre, and Stephen King just the mention of his name gives you goosebumps, pick up his book On Writing, you will, there’s nothing out there that is more motivating to get into the field or a better tool, a better instruction manual than his book On Writing. But at any rate, you know, you’ll hear, including him and his advices, we have to write every day. I don’t subscribe to that advice as much because I mean, sometimes it’s hard to write every day. Sometimes you don’t want to sometimes you can’t for whatever reason I try to. But I think for me, the more important advice is read every day. And Stephen King also says in the book, if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. And I think to answer your question, that’s how I got into writing horror is I was a huge fan of horror fiction – first horror films. I’m lucky enough being here in the sort of Orlando area that we get some fantastic horror conventions come through every year when there’s not a global pandemic going on. And, you know, I’ve met horror celebrities, I’ve given them copies of my book, signed copies of them. Just for example, you know, my title greetings from Barker Marsh. That was my homage to Clive Barker. And two years ago, I got to meet him and signed a copy of Barker Marsh to him. And he was so humble and so sweet and wanted to know how my sales were, you know, like, it was like two authors talking. And here I am about to freak out. Because, you know, one of the pillars of modern fiction is interested in a book that I wrote, and frankly, titled, titled after him, but I guess that’s where my motivation and passion comes from just being a fan of the horror genre. I like being scared. And I love scaring people even more.
CL: What is it about horror that you’re so drawn to? Did you like it as a kid? What types of horror, like monster stuff or psychological horror or a mixture?
TH: If you want me to nail down a specific sub-genre of horror, I’m a child of the ‘80s. I am a slasher fan through and through, Friday the 13th all the way! That’s the kind of stuff that I watched as a kid – way too young. I had parents that did not do a great job of shielding me from from stuff. On a Friday, they would give me a $10 bill before I went to school and say “hey, ride your bike to the video store on your way home and stock up for the for the weekend.” And I would, man, I’d have stacks of VHS tapes and bags on each handlebar and ride back and it would be Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and Pet Sematary, when that came out I watched it, I was seven years old, and scarred me for… was 30 years before I watched it again. Zelda killed me. But ironically one of my most prized possessions I’ve got a first edition Pet Cemetery on my on my bookshelf that I picked up for it for a steal. So I read it, and it wasn’t near as scary as the movie and that hardly ever happens for me. But so anyway, I like all types of horror, as I said, as a young kid, you know, between babysitters, and my parents that didn’t really shield me from that stuff. I was constantly watching it. And then as far as R.L. Stein books go, I mean, I was never a Goosebumps kid. And maybe you guys because I know you’re kind of a generation younger than me, I feel like I would have been too old for that, but I did read a lot of the Fear Street stuff. Like I remember much more R.L. Stein’s Fear Street series, which is a little more darker, gory, or bloodier. more violent, I think than the Goosebumps stuff. So I read a lot of that. And then I guess my first Stephen King novel was Christine and I read that probably in seventh, maybe eighth grade. And then from there, I got you know, I couldn’t get my hands on enough. So, did I miss a question in there? I know you’re asking me what, what influenced me and what oh, so why do I like being scared? What do I like doing this? It’s an answer I know that other people have shared. But for me, it’s a cathartic release. It’s a safe place. I would rather go and watch a scary, horrible movie for 90 to 120 minutes, then turn on CNN, especially last year, you know what I mean? You know, you can go you can get your adrenaline up, you can put your mind in the mind of the victims that you’re seeing, get chased around the woods on TV and feel that rush, and then when it’s over, you know, it’s fine. You’re fine. You’re safe. You know what I mean? I think that’s why I like to do it. And then there’s just as far as writing it, you know, there’s an awful side of me that just loves to see how far I can push things. And, you know, I love it. When people tell me I had to sleep with the lights on, you know… Barker Marsh is really, when I wrote Greetings from Barker Marsh, you know, I changed names of places and people and stuff. But that’s mostly Sandoval. I took some creative liberty, about certain things. One of the settings was a basement, under the school behind the Catholic church that I went to- school doesn’t have a basement, and I wrote it as having a basement because I wrote some pretty creepy ass scenes underneath there. And my uncle told me that after he had read the book, he had to drop something off in the school, you know, and so they gave him the key. And he said that he almost had a panic attack. But he walked in and like hit him where he was. And he started thinking about the book. He’s like Tyson, he’s like, I broke out sweats. He’s like, I couldn’t breathe, every little noise I would hear. He’s like, I just like, threw what I needed to in the classroom, and then just hauled ass to the front door without looking behind me, because I just knew that, you know, something was gonna be there. So I love getting those kinds of reactions out of people, you know what I mean? That’s, that’s why I do it.
CL: Do you have a favorite monster?
TH: It’s hard to pick a favorite. But if I had to, if I if I have just one. I’m a bit of a purist. So Classic Monsters, I would go with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I’ve always had loved diving and the idea of underwater, I mean, Jaws, that type of thing. And even when I was a kid, and started watching the classic universal movies, I mean, everybody knew about Dracula. Everybody knew about Frankenstein and The Wolfman. And don’t get me wrong. I love werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster and vampires. But there’s something about the Creature from the Black Lagoon, where, and this is a theme that kind of holds true through a lot of horror is, you know, is he the monster? Or is he the victim? You know, here’s a guy that’s living in the Amazon, not bothering anybody, you know, and here’s a bunch of white dudes that show up, you know, want to do all this geological surveying and messing with his environment, you know, and kind of happens every day, you know what I mean? And he just decides that he’s going to do something about it, you know, and even at a young age, that sort of resonated with me.
CL: What is the best writing advice you have ever received? What is the best advice you can offer to our readers?
TH: Well, I think we already touched on the importance of reading. Because I think naturally, if you haven’t been at this for very long, you’re eventually you’ll develop your own style. And it’ll be fairly distinct. But until that happens, whether you like it or not, and plagiarism is a hard, harsh word, but you’ll find yourself mimicking the style of the people that you read. I mean, I and I am by no means comparing myself to Stephen King, but I’ve had people tell me that you know your style, you know, what you do is very reminiscent of Stephen King, and it’s no surprise because that’s what I’m going for. You know what I mean? So I think my advice to people that are just getting into this is, you know, read. Read the way you want to write, find authors that have the style that you would like to have and read those books and make notes and see what they do and you catch yourself reading the line and you’ll stop and you’ll smile. And, you know, they say, oh, man, that’s so good. And we’ve all done that, right? Where you just take a break, you know it takes you out of the moment, you’re like, “Ah, what a good line.” And eventually, what you’ll find is that you’ll do that while you’re writing. You’ll write something and you’ll say, “Damn, that’s such a good line.” So that’s one piece of advice just as far as sitting down and getting the work done.
CL: Finally, what can you share with us about your new book, Head Wounds, without spoiling it?
TH: Well, kind of in a nutshell, my philosophy behind releasing it is this; As I said, I got a couple of new shows coming out or that I’ll be at a couple of months. And the thing about these shows is you know, I’ve managed to develop a little fan base here and in the area. But as much as people love me and love the stuff I write, they’re only going to buy my book once. So if I don’t have anything new the following year, they may come by and say hi and give me give me a high five, but they’re not going to buy a book that they bought last year. When what I call convention season, which is pretty much October for horror writers, when that comes around, I better have new material, or I’m not going to make any money, you know. So I knew I needed something. And frankly, I hadn’t been working on a lot of fiction work this year, because the freelance stuff has had me so busy. But what I did have was the rights back to all these stories that I released when I was just getting started. So what Head Wounds is, is basically five or six, I think, short stories that have previously been published in other magazines or other collections, as well as a few stories that have never seen the light of day that I’ve just always kind of set on the back burner and I polished and finished up. And then mainly what I guess I’m most proud of and also most scared of is I’ve also got half a dozen or so poems in the book. I’ve never published any of my poetry. I don’t know why it’s always just been a little bit gun shy. So we’ll see how that goes. And then I think I’ve even got a screenplay for like a 15 minute film. It’s about 15 pages. So the general rule is a minute per page. When it comes to screenplays, I’ve got that toward the end of the book, too, because several years ago, I entered that in a horror film contest, and it wound up being a semifinalist. I didn’t win the screenplay contest, but I was, I think, one of the top three, and which was great and fun. But, you know, I haven’t made the movie yet. It’s just kind of sitting there. So I thought, this might be fun, too. It’s a cool story. So I’ll throw that out there for the reader. So that’s what Head Wounds is, a collection of old stuff, new stuff, and it’ll be interesting to folks that have read my stuff through the years, you know, to kind of see how I’ve I’ve progressed, you see how the, the early me was, and then the more recent stuff, and hopefully I’ve gotten better somewhere in between.
CentraLit is so grateful to Tyson for sitting down and talking to us! You can buy Head Wounds on Amazon now, or check out Tyson at the links below.
Tyson Hanks is the author of multiple short stories that have been published in numerous collections, including the World War 1 horror anthology Kneeling in the Silver Light, The Dark and Stormy Night, Sanitarium Magazine and Ghosts, Goblins, Murder & Madness: Twenty Tales of Halloween, published by Dark Ink Books. His debut novel, Greetings from Barker Marsh, was published in 2016. Tyson is an Army veteran and currently lives in Florida, where he works as a freelance writer.
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