Joe Pawlowski is the author of four books: The Vermilion Book of the Macabre (where “The Intruder” originally appears), The Watchful Dead, Dark House of Dreams, and, most recently, The Cannibal Gardener. He is a retired journalist living in the Minneapolis area with his wife, Debbie, and rescue dog, Lucy. He is a U.S. Army veteran, a secular Buddhist, a major Beatles fan, a vegan, and a lifelong student of classic horror and supernatural literature. Besides reading and writing, he enjoys music, movies and socializing with his many friends.
What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?
I was a journalist for many years, both in newspapers and magazines. I was an editor, a columnist and a freelancer. I remember the first time I sold a freelance article to a national publication called U.S. Art, it was pretty exciting. But nothing matches having a book published. I’ve loved horror fiction since I was a grade-schooler reading Edgar Allan Poe, and am thrilled to be working in this same medium. I always think that my best book is my most recent one, but opinions vary. And, hey, having my story printed in The Chamber magazine is pretty cool, too.
Why do you write?
The easy answer would be to say I want to scare people, but there’s more to it than that. When I’m in the writing mode, it’s like visiting another world. Admittedly, reality is subjective even in a state of mindfulness, but when I’m writing I’m able to reinvent any aspect of existence. Black is white, up is down, the laws of science aren’t binding. Why? Because in this story, I’ve designed things that way. When I’m writing, I’m in a completely different zone than in my day-to-day life, and I’m totally invested in the lives of people I’ve created; their struggles, their triumphs, their failures. Ultimately, writing is its own reward.
What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)
I write pretty much every morning from around 8 or 9 a.m. to about noon or maybe 1. Sometimes longer. Depends if I’m a writing groove. I tend to rewrite quite a bit, mostly as I go along. I write at my kitchen table. My productivity is much higher when I stick to this routine.
Usually, I start every story with an idea and a basic concept of where the story is headed. I develop my characters, and a lot of the plot hinges on what types of people they are and how they react to their circumstances. I read a lot to research, mine and merge plot points, create atmosphere and construct (hopefully) believable characters. People ask me if I’m a sadist, but I’m really not. I feel for the people I’m putting through the wringer. Even the not-so-nice people. To some degree, even the monsters.
Do you have anyone (friends, relatives, etc.) review your works before you publish them?
After I’ve written, rewritten and extensively edited a story, I’ll usually ask friends to read it. My stepdaughter, Jennifer Thompson, has a good eye for details and she enjoys reading, so her input is invaluable. I use Grammarly on everything. For novels, I also use the services of Danita Mayer, a class-A professional editor. She’s been very helpful in pointing out ways to improve a story, and I almost always follow her advice.
Could you give us an idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?
I’m almost finished with a collection of weird-fiction stories, which should be out in March or April. I’m also writing a novel about a troubled guy who inherits a fishing resort in northern Minnesota. He thinks he’s headed for a simple life of peace and tranquility. Of course, he couldn’t be more wrong. It is a horror novel, right?
Do you have any writing events coming up?
I’ll probably do some book signings after this Covid situation gets resolved.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
A measure of immortality, I guess. The books will be around after I’m gone. For me, writing books is building a legacy of sorts. With digital publishing, there will probably be copies of my work for future great-great-great grandchildren to look up. They can say, my relative wrote some pretty scary stuff.
On a case-by-case basis, I hope I create fiction that goes beyond tropes and, ultimately, says something about the human condition.
What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?
You have to shrug them off bad reviews. Some people are going to like your stuff, others aren’t. If there’s some wisdom to be gleaned from a reader’s remarks then, yeah, I’m listening. If you just don’t like it, well, I’m sorry you wasted your $2.99 or whatever. I can’t please everyone, though, of course, I wish everyone loved my stuff.
What advice do you have for novice writers?
Read. I usually read books for an hour or more every day, plus websites. I listen to audiobooks all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies and some TV shows, but the boob tube will devour every free, waking hour of your life if you let it. Same thing with video games. To each his own, but don’t think you can get away with not reading and still be a worthwhile writer. You won’t have the tools to do it.
What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?
Be yourself. Be a unique individual. There’s a lot of books out there and, if you want to attract your share of readers, you need a unique voice and outlook.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing? (websites, social media, etc.)