Guys, I’m really sort of geeking out over this Indie Author Spotlight Series! I’m meeting some awesome creative talents in various literary genres and I get to tell you all about them! If you’re not sure what this is all about or if you are an Indie Author who is interested in a feature here on HFC, then see my post: Looking for Indie Authors. And, in case you missed it – last week’s spotlight was on Erotica novelist Porsha Deun.
This week’s spotlight interview is on horror author and graphic artist Ryan O’Laughlin (Vlad Abacus). I had the pleasure of first meeting Ryan on Instagram. As soon as I saw some of his creative shares, I knew he was going to provide us with a great interview for this series!
As some of you may know, I’m a writer also, though currently unpublished, and I enjoy connecting with other writers on social media. (Connect with me here on Instagram – Holisticfox.)
I am so inspired by the independent authoring and publishing journey that I see so many passionate creatives taking – and they encourage me along my own journey! If you’re an aspiring author, perhaps their words and shared experiences here will encourage you to keep traveling this empowered path as well!
Ryan, as I said, is an author of horror. He currently has two published works. I have to admit, the horror genre is one of my personal favorites and Ryan goes above and beyond with his creative works – dreaming up unique artwork for his titles and then taking readers into previously unexplored realms down experimental paths of fiction storytelling. If you’re looking for something different, you’ve found it here.
Spotlight Interview: Ryan O’Laughlin
Ryan O’Laughlin is the Author of the Psychic Karate novels, a blend of modern horror with graphic novel and manga sensibilities. Self-taught visual and verbal artist, Ryan’s work is exceptionally unique and full of strangeness and nuance that can at times be comedic and at others deeply surreal.
“It’s not a book, it’s a weapon!” – Carnegie, “Book Of Eli”
What life experience first led you to know that you are a writer?
While this is probably a confluence of many, many factors, I remember developing an insane reading habit at an early age due to allergies. As school would give way to summer break, I would need to spend the first few weeks indoors due to the pollen. As a 7 year-old, I crushed the entire Narnia collection in five days to kill the boredom. Something definitely took hold at that time.
How do you normally come up with your ideas?
They crawl out of the walls. 😉 Being a visual artist, I have a lot of time to think about the backstory behind the strange drawings I cook up. Most are there just to entertain myself, but some can clearly speak to a broader audience, so I develop them accordingly.
Can you give us a typical example of your daily writing practice?
I write in strange bursts. Because the books I have written in the “Psychic Karate” line are brief (novella-length) and blown up with a lot of internal illustration, planning how the artwork informs (or deforms) the reader’s image of what’s going on means periods of nothing but art and periods of writing informed by that art. So, a lot of my writing is a byproduct of having spent some serious time drawing/painting the subject of the book.
What would you say is the most common trap new authors fall into?
I can only speculate, but I’m growing more concerned by the day about the amount of online “rules” being communicated to new authors. There are certainly conventions to consider and terms to get familiar with, but trying to follow a “list” of rules about how to write a novel, develop a character, reach an audience, etc. makes me deeply suspicious.
Art should be about subverting rules. In American literature especially, all of our classics, in some way or another, subvert the rules of the language, the structure of a story, the form of a novel, etc. Now, we shouldn’t be breaking rules just to prove how smart we are, but if we have a strong artistic reason to deviate from the online list, that’s our job!
I couldn’t agree more, Ryan! Often it is those works that pushed past boundaries that stay in the minds of the public for generations – some even inspiring entire movements and shifts within the creative arts world. Stay tuned for my upcoming post: Creativity Favors the Rebellious.
Can you explain how you go about publishing your works?
I self-publish via Amazon. I went back-and-forth on this, but writing experimental horror novels that have intense internal illustrations would be a lot for an agent or publishing company to take on for a debut writer. Now, I am working on a more traditional novel I’ll eventually shop around for traditional publishing, so my thinking is that the method of publication should, in some meaningful way, match the needs and content of the story being published. The Psychic Karate stuff will most likely always be a self-published, punk rock, DIY enterprise.
What is your process like when doing research for your writing?
I’m the kind of writer that wants to maintain the illusion that nothing is ever researched, so this is a tough one. Once inspired to explore the subject matter of a story, the academic part of research is second nature to me; I’m a Berkeley grad.
However, finding “authoritative” info on clearly-established subject matter is less interesting to me than “zeitgeist” issues, those matters of mass emotional weight and a shared language around events. This involves internet and social media deep-dives that, to be honest, are emotionally taxing and leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. Then again, I’m a horror writer, so it’s an occupational hazard.
Why did you choose to write in within the horror genre?
So, I’m dating myself a bit here, but I’m a child of the 80s. I grew up in a time when you had more than one corporate bookstore. Now, it didn’t matter what the store was called, Waldenbooks, B Dalton and so on… what was noticeable about all of these stores was that the genre labels were different at that time and the “Horror” section ate up half the store’s shelfspace!
Despite my fake-newsy, bloggy website, vladabacus.com, being highly comedic in its presentation, the characters and ideas of the corresponding Psychic Karate books were always supposed to be various expressions of horror.
What is your latest work about and what have you learned from writing it?
Advertised as a “surreal, romantic body horror,” this is a story told in blog posts from a grieving widow. She’s besieged in her own house by the media after her husband became sick with a virus that deformed him into something monstrous. He claimed this virus was communicating with him about the fate of humanity. As he set out to “save” mankind, the government burned him alive on national TV. His wife, now a celebrity in the worst possible way, is prepared to tell society what she knows about the virus that’s killing everyone, but she holds the world (and the reader) hostage as she goes through various stages of grief.
While the Psychic Karate books all have a particular format and presentation style, they all have different “flavors.”
The first book, THE AUTODIDACT, I’ve labeled as a, “transgressive, absurdist black comedy.” While violent, it’s funny and goes for a lot of laughs.
This new one, M1ST3R WH1SK3RS, is deeply tragic. I couldn’t hide behind jokes on this one and I had to tap into some emotional past history I wasn’t comfortable with. I never set out to write a surreal book, but that’s what the story and the narrator demanded. So, what I’ve learned is that I can stay in the lane of horror and write a lot of these Psychic Karate books while still exploring a huge range of literary story types, tones, subgenres, etc.
That’s really profound – what a great takeaway. Personally, I love the surreal ambiance that is born from a deeply resonating tone.
What’s the most important thing you could tell readers about your books/works before they read it?
The Psychic Karate books are standalone stories. They don’t need to be read in any particular order. Also, because they are so experimental, I’m not trying to dethrone your favorite author or genre, but I’d like to provide a brief and entertaining “pallet cleanser” to more conventional books you may be really engaged with.
What is one of the most crucial experiences from your life that has inspired your work?
This will be detailed somewhat in the next book and extensively in a future book, but I’m a mental health survivor. In my early twenties, I was devastated by a severe form of Bipolar Disorder that lead to a very particular suicidal delusion. I suffered from the bizarre belief that I was some kind of conduit or gate for all the evil thoughts and ideas circulating about the world, making myself somehow guilty for any and all acts of human cruelty and atrocity. Learning how to confront this delusion and laugh about it became a critical weapon I could use to overcome this disorder. Thankfully, I’ve been totally mentally healthy for about 17 years now; no therapy, no drugs, so all’s well that ends well… but it is a chronic condition, so I’m always vigilant!
Thank you for sharing this part of your experience so honestly with us. It’s important to shine a light of understanding on mental health issues and the traumas and experiences that are a part of them. I think drawing from such experiences in the creation of art can be healing as well as illuminating and I look forward to seeing where you take this in your next work.
What would you say is the biggest hurdle or challenge you’ve had to overcome as a writer?
I feel like I’m dealing with it now. I just want to write stories and sell them to piles of book nerds, that’s all. I have no interest in being a celebrity, social media influencer or any kind of “elite” person. So, how do I effectively sell the product without selling my life in the process? Figuring out what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not comfortable with is a serious issue to me.
Now, I can get behind Instagram, as I have a habit of elaborately doodling intense illustrations of the title pages of the books I sign for people, so that’s my “lane,” but showcasing my face, my political opinions, my friends/family, etc. is something I’m really trying to build effective guardrails for. The creative stuff is easy for me, but the marketing paradigm is something I’m naturally allergic to.
If you could go back to when you were just getting started as an author, what advice would you give yourself?
I spent almost a decade “figuring out” how I wanted to go about this Psychic Karate business. While a lot of that was time well-spent, I couldn’t sustain the effort long enough to get momentum. What allowed me to change in this regard was a simple commitment: art had to be the priority.
What that meant for me is on days when I could not generate my own art, I would spend time enjoying someone else’s. It could be a museum, a concert, a new book to read, anything, so long as it was more important than the daily grind. That simple commitment fixed everything for me and I’ve published two books in exactly a year!
Wow, two books in one year – That’s exciting to hear! And, the technique you used to access your creativity by getting outside your own head is actually one that I mention in my recent article: How to Activate Natural Creativity.
Is there a topic or genre you’d like to write on that you haven’t yet?
Oh, yeah! I’ll eventually write a sci-fi novel and probably a western (not a part of the Psychic Karate books). I also need to flex my dark sword and sorcery roots and may launch a separate line of books in that space. Future Psychic Karate books will explore epic poetry, post apocalyptic, dystopian and cyberpunk themes/subgenres as well. I have no shortage of work!
I can really appreciate how involved you are with interests in so many genres. It’s why I often say I’m more nuance than niche – because creativity is difficult to box in for many of us. I knew I wasn’t the only one! I’m sure other creatives reading will be able to identify with this too and be drawn to see what you come up with next in your creative wanderings.
So, how many WIP (works in progress) do you currently have?
I’m drafting the next Psychic Karate book, but I’m about to finish an unrelated short story I want to shop around to some litmags. I’m also in the outlining phase of a massive sci-fi/horror novel that I think would be good for traditional publishing, but I expect a year or two will be needed before I have a shoppable manuscript. So, depending on how we look at it, between 1 and 3 works in progress, leaving out another 4+ Psychic Karate books.
How do you handle negative feedback or constructive criticism?
I have two tricks I use that establish a tone for critique.
First, in each Psychic Karate book, the website characters are in the front matter of the book, replacing the normal review testimonials with absolute bashing of the book you’re about to read. So, the most common gripes someone may have about the book are already openly discussed by these daffy characters. Shuts down the haters quick!
Second, I try to lead by example with my Goodreads reviews. I literally only write a review on books I really like. Anything that disappoints gets 2 or 3 stars with no explanation, I only say something if I have something nice to say, because I’m not getting paid to be a critic.
What a great strategy! And, I totally get what you’re saying about leaving reviews. My mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Though not always successful in that regard, I try to stand by those words of wisdom!
What part of your creative process would you say requires the most energy and effort from you?
Definitely the art/prose fusion I have going on. What I’m doing is the reverse of a graphic novel. In comics, you see the picture first and then your idea of the picture is informed by words. What I do is the exact opposite; I let the reader’s visual cortex paint a picture and then assault that picture with my own artwork. Figuring out what kind of moment that creates takes a lot of experimental intuition!
That’s really cool.
Tell us about your support system? How have those who support you in your work helped you along the way?
My support system loves me unconditionally, and as a creative, this is a problem! I need people in my life to push me around a bit, to tell me I’ll never amount to nothin,’ to say I suck. So, because I didn’t have anyone like that, I created a bunch of characters that did it for me and put them on display at my website!
Too funny! 😂
What’s the most emotionally uncomfortable scene or topic you’ve ever written?
So far, I have one example in each book, and it’s the endings. No spoilers, but in THE AUTODIDACT, there’s an aspect to the ending that no self-respecting author would ever agree to, but it got a laugh. Because it needed to be a comedy, that joke and that laugh needed to be more important than my image as a “serious” writer.
In M1ST3R WH1SK3RS, the ending involves plot action that’s entirely absent from the text, something only indirectly referred to, something that raises a host of questions even I cannot answer, but the character and the story demanded it.
Now, the easy thing to do is put on the writer’s hat and apply those internet-list rules to the situation and avoid the whole problem… but that was the easy way out. In the end, I had to trust my gut and let the monster eat my ego in this regard.
Is writing your full time “job” or do you have other work?
Depends on when you ask! When I started, I had a career-ish day-job. Now, I’ll sling temporary gigs and wage-based day job stuff as needed. Frankly, I find the 9-5 grind of dealing with jerks for money to be motivating and a treasure-trove for future material, so I kind of want to keep a gig going, but that daily priority involving art is completely non-negotiable. Future employers be warned!
For Our Readers and Your Fans, Name a book that has:
–Inspired you as a person or a professional.
Vonnegut’s, “Slaughterhouse Five” really opened my eyes on how you could subvert stories, characters, genres and politics in a brief and simple way. If there’s any influence to be found in my stuff, it’s Vonnegut for sure.
–Made you laugh.
–Made you cry.
“Ethan Frome,” by Edith Wharton y’all! OMG, that book is depressing. I seriously need to do a Wharton deep-dive sometime soon.
–Changed your life.
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s, “Demons” is one of the most politically and psychologically impactful books I’ve ever read. I hold it in my heart as a reminder to all the crazy, anti-intellectual partisanship I see exploding all around me on a daily basis.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with us here?
If someone asks me what they should be reading beyond my own stuff, my answer is that there’s a huge benefit in reading a cross-section of literature. You like Thrones? Fine, but there’s more to life than fantasy series. You only read classics? Well, tomorrow’s classics are already here; your job is to find them! Never checked out historical fiction or poetry? Hey, you only live once. Avid readers can either stay in one corner and risk burnout or expand their narrative palette by jumping around a bit. While I love horror, I’m just as likely to read Capote or LeGuin or Melville… all of which I’m currently doing!
Please tell us where to connect with you-
Author Profile on Goodreads: Ryan O’Laughlin on Goodreads
Author Profile on Amazon: Ryan O’Laughlin on Amazon
Author’s Website: The Psychic Karate Dojo
Facebook Page: Vlad Abacus
This has been a fun and enlightening interview! Thanks for giving us such a detailed view into your work as an independent author and artist. Your creative skills are far beyond ordinary and I’m impressed by your journey.
I encourage everyone reading to support this uniquely talented creative artist and indie author in his work! Please visit his website and give him a follow and feedback on all his social pages. Also be sure to check out his books and leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. These sort of actions help to get indie authors noticed through increased traffic and commentary.
Be sure to leave a comment here as well! Thanks for joining us for Ryan’s illuminating spotlight interview!