Jay Wilburn is an author of horror and speculative fiction, as well as a stay-at-home dad. He and his wife and two children live in coastal South Carolina. His short fiction has been published in numerous anthologies, including Bleed and Middletown Apocalypse. His short story “Dead Song,” appeared in Zombies: More Recent Dead alongside works from such authors as Joe R. Lansdale, Cat Rambo, and Neil Gaiman. He’s currently working on the Dead Song Legend Dodecology, a twelve-book series about the fictional character Tiny Jones, who became a legend after the zombie apocalypse. Each book of the series will be accompanied by a soundtrack of songs. Jay does video readings on his Patreon page at Patreon.com/JayWilburn. Guest writer Brandon Black recently interviewed Jay about balancing writing with parenting, and the appeal of horror writing.
Brandon: You were a teacher before you became a writer. What did you teach and for how long? Did you enjoy teaching?
Jay: I did enjoy teaching when I was allowed to do it. Most of the time it was paperwork and discipline, though. I taught elementary for a number of years and then all the subjects in middle school eventually for a total of sixteen years. I had all four subjects on my certificate, so I moved around grade levels and subjects as needed.
Brandon: Why did you stop teaching?
Jay: My son was sick and one of us needed to stay home with him. Before that, a former student, one that was supposed to do well and make us all proud one day, killed himself. I went to the funeral and took the following Monday off. When I came back, we had a meeting where we were talking about how important it was that the school add five points onto our score on a standardized test from our performance from the previous year. I was pretty much done with it all at that point.
BB: As a stay-at-home dad, how do you feel about balancing parenting and writing? Is it very difficult?
JW: I took a year off teaching when my first son was born. Then, I went back. When I stayed home with my second son’s health issues, I didn’t want to go back. He got better, but I kept working at making a living writing. I’ve kind of gotten used to working under distractions. Each time they need something, that’s break time. I write horror and zombie stories while kids’ shows play in the background. I potty-trained the younger one while writing during the day. Now they are both in school, but I have to pick them up at different times. I plan my writing in three blocks during the day then. Life is distracting no matter what your situation is as a writer. I’d rather live this life than any of my other options.
Brandon: How do your kids respond to your need to write? How old are they?
Jay: My kids are ten and four now. They just kind of get that this is the job I do. I’m in the house with them when it isn’t school time, so if they need something, they can just come ask. I’ll take breaks and read to them. Sometimes we’ll head down to the beach for a couple hours or to the park some days. I can volunteer at their schools pretty easily. They probably have more access to me than when I was teaching all day and grading papers all night.
Brandon: How does your wife feel about your writing?
Jay: She doesn’t read a lot of what I write. With the ghostwriting especially, I can only speak in generalities or not at all about what I’ve worked on in a day. With my own horror, she’ll occasionally pick up something, if people give her a hard time about not reading what I write. Sometimes she reads it all the way through. Some of the steampunk and scifi are a little easier for her to digest. My family is pretty conservatively religious, myself included, so not everything I write lands with her as a reader. I’m a bit darker in mind and spirit than the average, traditional Christian, so that bleeds through in my writing. Even when I write in a way that includes my faith, there is a lot of darkness and blood. I don’t tend to choose heroes in stories from among characters that believe what I believe. Biblical truth translates well to horror in my mind. That is a bit tougher for others to take in sometimes.
Brandon: What’s your favorite horror film?
Jay: I’d say the original Halloween. It was my dad’s favorite horror movie, so my perception of it is skewed toward greatness.
Brandon: Your favorite horror book?
Jay: Stephen King’s The Stand.
Brandon: Is King your favorite horror writer?
Jay: Stephen King would have to be the top of the list. You grab any four of his books at random and you’ll have more than one that I love and consider great.
Brandon: So, why horror? What is it about it that speaks to you?
Jay: Light shines brightest in contrast to darkness. Good only matters insomuch as it stands against evil. A hero’s rise only means something compared to the fall and depths from which he has to climb. Horror extends that range. It gets to paint in the darker emotional colors as well as the lighter ones. Fear is one of those, but it also includes anger, regret, sorrow, bitterness, melancholy, as well as the darker sides of love, joy, peace, and happiness. Horror can be grimly beautiful and in that way it can be moving. It can be beautiful in a way that is closer to real life.
Brandon: How do you see the horror genre developing in the near future?
Jay: I think we are due for a shake-up in horror writing. A number of authors are stepping back from the genre from attrition over the struggle of trying to make a living and get recognition. Other [prominent] authors are starting to speak out [about] certain pedestrian pieces…getting more recognition than they deserve. I think there is coming a moment where the guard is about to be flipped.
Brandon: What advice would you give to a new, aspiring horror writer?
Jay: Don’t shy away from writing what really scares you. That can include your hidden fears and insecurities, but it can also mean the style of story you are afraid to tackle.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable.
New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a BA in Military and Political Journalism and a MFA in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. His short story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon” has recently been selected for inclusion in Dark Oak Press’ upcoming anthology Capes and Clockwork II. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on his first novel. You can find out more about Brandon and his work at brandonblackonline.com.