Interview with Lisa Binion

Published 2016-01-25.
What's the story behind your latest book? Is Lori's character based on anyone specific?
My mom died in December of 1974 when I was eight years old. That was a traumatic time in my life. The time of year she died put a bit of a damper on the Christmas season for me. I'm not sure anyone ever completely recovers from the death of a person who was the entire world to you. A friend suggested that I write about her death. She thought that might help me to heal a bit more.

What I wrote about her death became Softly and Tenderly. Turning her death into a horror story seemed to be the natural thing to do. Lori's character, of course, is based on me. Throughout the story are bits and pieces of things that really happened. The first paragraph where my dad runs down the stairs screaming that my mom is dead is one of them. That morning and her funeral have horribly etched their way into my memory, but I remember almost nothing about the eight wonderful years I spent with her.

Where did all the beetles come from? There was a beetle that got caught in my hair, but that happened after my mom died. That is how I know that their sharp little legs hurt when they move on your skin. My stepmom is the one who untangled it from my hair and sent it on its way. That one event is what prompted me to give them such a huge part in my story.
How long did it take you to decide on a title?
The story begins with my mom's death, so a funeral naturally follows. A funeral home is creepy enough on its own, but I wanted something to make it even more so. The song "Softly and Tenderly" popped into my head. It was one that we sang a lot at the church I attended after my mom's death, but it was used as an invitation song. I really didn't think that particular song that would creep anyone out, but then I looked up the full lyrics to it. In church, we had always sang the first, second, and fourth verses, never the third. The third verse is rather chilling and totally appropriate for a funeral. That is when I decided on the title. Softly and Tenderly sounds sweet and gentle, but like the third verse of the song, there is nothing sweet or gentle about what I wrote.
What happened the day you finished the first part of Softly and Tenderly?
Again, that is day forever etched into my memory. I should tell you that the ending of the first part was changed the day after I finished it. Why?

I finished part one early one evening. Later, much later, that same evening, one of my brothers called me. I could tell that he had been crying when he first spoke. My dad had fallen down the stairs, and he was dead.

This death of a parent hits any person hard, and I was no exception to that. I remember screaming and falling to the floor. And then I remembered—I had ended the first part of Softly and Tenderly with the death of my dad. Part of me felt as though that was the reason he died, but authors just don't have that kind of power. If we did, no one would be safe.

What made this super creepy for me was the fact that the stairs he fell to his death on were the very same stairs he ran down that horrible morning in December 1974 while screaming that my mom was dead. Was that some awful twist of fate or something? Am I the only one who finds that a bit unsettling?
What kind of research did you have to do?
The only thing I knew about beetles was that they liked dead bodies. I looked up all kinds of stuff on beetles, everything from how many different kinds there were to how they saw the world around them to what they liked to eat.

Death doesn't sound like much fun to research, but it is fascinating. I needed to know how long it took the human body to decay in any type of weather. That wasn't needed until the second part of the story. What is cremation like? How large are the ovens? Is there a funeral for the one being cremated? I took liberties with what I learned, but I still had to know exactly what it all involved.

I found learning about beetles, death, and cremation fascinating, but what I most enjoyed learning about were the medieval torture machines and the methods of torture used. Yeah, I know, that stuff should be disturbing. The fact that people can be so cruel does disturb me, but since I love horror stories, what I learned about fed my imagination.
What are you working on now? What was your inspiration for it?
Whisper, a story about a spider crawling inside a girl's ear and making its home there, is what I'm working on now. The story is basically finished, but I need to go back through and do some final editing and maybe add some more description to it.

One day a few years ago, I came in from running. I reached up to push my hair off my face and tuck it behind my ear. As my fingers ran overtop of my ear, I felt these little legs sticking out of it. That was not good. My heart about stopped. I reached back to grab those legs so I could pull whatever that was out of my ear. The legs moved out of my reach, and I felt something crawling to the inside of my ear. I freaked.

This creature was inside my ear most of the day. I poured hydrogen peroxide in to try to flush it out with no success. Each time that thing moved, it felt as though a mini-tornado was spinning inside my ear. No matter where I was when that happened, it would cause me to fall to the ground.

That evening, I decided to try the peroxide one more time, and that time it worked. I felt little legs scurrying across my face. I yelled to my daughter that the bug had finally come out of my ear. She ran in to see what it was. "Oh, my god, Mom! It was a spider, and it's still alive!"

Having a bug inside my ear had been bad enough, but finding out it had been a spider was even worse. I started to shake and couldn't stop. My heart pounded so hard that I just knew it was going to pop out of my chest. I drank several glasses of wine before I calmed down enough to stop shaking.

And my daughter kept the spider that had been inside my ear as a pet.

That spider was my inspiration for Whisper, the story of a spider that crawls inside the ear of a teenage girl ready to commit suicide, and this spider changes her mind. Even creepier, this teenager gives the spider permission to crawl into her ear.
In your bio, it says that you once found a baby bird in your kitchen. Tell us about that.
That morning, I got up and wandered into the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee. I stopped right inside my kitchen and looked straight ahead at my stove. On top of a Cream of Wheat canister on the back of it sat a baby bird. My first thought was that I was dreaming or seeing things, so I closed my eyes and rubbed them. When I opened them back up, the bird was still sitting there, calmly staring at me.

At a loss for words, my mouth dropped open. After several moments of silence, I finally said, "Hey there, little bird."

I had no clue how this baby bird had made it into my kitchen: eight cats who pounced on anything that moved lived with me. I love my cats, but I didn't want them to kill this innocent little bird.

I moved toward the bird to gently wrap my hands around him, or maybe it was her, but this spooked him, and he took off flying through my kitchen and dining room. Now the cats noticed what was going on. The race was on to see which of us could capture the bird first.

I ran back to the closet and grabbed a pillowcase. When I made it back to the dining room, my heart broke when I saw that one of my kittens had captured our little guest. But then I noticed that the kitten only had it by the end of its wing. No skin had been broken. I opened the pillowcase, closed it around my unexpected visitor, and pried the mouth of the kitten open. The bird was now in the pillowcase. I took the pillowcase outside, set it down on the deck, and opened it. My surprise guest took off.
Did the bird live a long life? I have no clue.

The only way we know of that it could have gotten into the house is through a hole in the bathroom ceiling that leads to the attic. If that is how the bird got into my house, it still doesn't explain how it flew down the hallway, through the living room and dining room, and into my kitchen without attracting the attention of just one of my always ready-to-pounce cats. I like to think that since it survived the flight into my kitchen against such incredible odds that the bird lived a long and happy life.
What kind of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite book?
​My favorite genre to read is horror, but I also read historical fiction, thrillers, mysteries, and anything else that sounds good to me. Just as it is impossible for me to have only one pet, I have more than one favorite book.

One of my favorite horror books is Meat: Uncut by Michael Bray. This book introduced vampires to me in an entirely new way, and I will never look at grocery stores as safe places to be. If I saw a human foot, washed, packaged, and ready to be cooked among the selections of meat on display for purchase, I'm pretty sure I would run screaming out of the store. This isn't an option for Garrett though. I was kept on the edge of my seat from the first page until the last.

A dark fiction series that is hard to put down is the My Beautiful Suicide series by Atty Eve. I am the editor for these books, but that isn't the reason I'm so wild about them. These books follow the life of Cosette, a young woman who wanted to commit suicide. She doesn't succeed in killing herself though. Instead, she turns into a cunning killer who takes out those that have escaped being punished for their crimes.

One of my favorite historical fiction books is Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen. The story of Juana of Castile began like a Cinderella story, but it turned into one of betrayal and horror for Juana. Many years later when a mob tries to release her from the prison she has been kept it for such a long time, she chooses to stay behind the walls of the palace instead of taking her rightful place on the throne. I know my short description doesn't make it sound as though it is a love story, but it is one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read.
If you could choose one person, dead or alive, to spend an hour with, whom would you choose? Why?
As with books, it is impossible to pick just one. First, I would like to spend some time with Charles Dickens. I want to discover how he managed to write so many books without the aid of a typewriter or computer. I can't imagine having to proof and edit my work without a computer.

It would be a dream come true to spend time with Agatha Christie. What was the inspiration for the characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot? I would also like to spend time with her during her mysterious disappearance. Did she sneak off to a hotel just to get away from everyone, or was she maybe abducted and taken to an alien world?

I would like to spend more time with my dad. I want to know if he is upset that I killed him in the original first part of my story. He died before his second grandson was born, and I would like to introduce him to the grandchild that looks so much like him.

Most of all, I would like to spend another hour with my mom. I want her to tell me about the time we had together since my mind refuses to allow me to relive any of it except for her death and funeral. I would love to introduce her to my husband and her grandchildren. And I want to know what she thinks of the character I based on her in Softly and Tenderly.
How can your fans keep up with what you are doing?
They can read my articles on my website, Lisa's Writopia. They can also see what I'm up to by following me on any of the below social media sites.

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