An Interview with Viscera Author, Jessica B. Bell
Having recently released the debut collection from author Jessica B. Bell, we thought it might be fun to sit down with her to discuss a variety of topics relating to writing and Viscera. Keep reading if you’d like to learn more about this Canadian writer of strange fiction who is rumoured to live in a damp, dark basement, writing her twisted tales in her own blood on faded yellow parchment…
Sirens Call Publications: Welcome Jessica! What made you decide to become a writer?
Jessica B. Bell: A short-lived career as a recreational brain surgeon led me to believe that my talents lay elsewhere. No, no, that’s not true—it was being marooned on a desert island with no one to talk to that started me on my path to storytelling. Or perhaps, it’s just that I’m a habitual liar, and so making things up comes naturally.
SCP: What is Viscera about?
Jessica: Well, it’s a collection of strange tales—some of them scary, some of them darkly humorous. I chose the title Viscera because all the stories, in one way or another, hit you in the gut.
SCP: What is the one thing you’d like readers to know about Viscera before they read it?
Jessica: No animals were harmed during the writing process.
SCP: What is your writing process? Do you consider yourself to be a planner or a pantser?
Jessica: Most of the time, I’m a planner. The stories that come easiest to me are the ones that come more or less fully formed in my head (I’ll often come up with the ending before anything else, and then figure out how to get there). I’m currently writing a story, however, that began with just a concept, and while flying by the seat of my pants, it developed into something I had not even thought about.
SCP: What is the hardest challenge that you have faced as a writer?
Jessica: Finding an audience in the modern Internet age, when anyone and everyone can publish online. Writing isn’t like any other art—a musician can get a gig, and can play for a room full of people and get that instant gratification. An artist can show their work and it only takes someone a moment to like it and show their appreciation. Finding readers is a different story altogether, because it takes an investment of time and interest.
SCP: In your opinion, what sets Viscera apart from other books of the same genre?
Jessica: I think there’s a story in Viscera for everyone. There are tiny little 100 word stories, stories about monsters, both human and otherwise, twists on classic horror tropes, stories that will make you laugh when you know you shouldn’t.
SCP: Are you reading anything right now, or have you read anything recently that is worth mentioning?
Jessica: I’m in the middle of reading B.P.R.D.—Hell on Earth by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. It’s a graphic novel and if you’re familiar with Hellboy, it’s set in that same universe. Mike Mignola is the modern heir to the Lovecraftian tradition, and it’s everything that the Marvel and DC crowd is not. It’s smart, frightening, and fast-paced.
SCP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite novels?
Jessica: Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Chuck Palahniuk, Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman… too many to list, but there’s a handful. My favourite novels are Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, and The Haunting of Hill House.
SCP: How do you define success as a writer? Have you been successful?
Jessica: Honestly? The admiration of complete strangers! That’s messed up, I know, but I don’t trust the praise of friends or family. It’s one of the reasons I write under pseudonyms. And so, have I been successful? Yes, I suppose I have. But one thing I’ve learned is that it’s never enough. You always want more.
SCP: Do you have words of wisdom about writing that you want to pass on to novelists and writers out there who are just starting out?
Jessica: Write first to entertain yourself. If you don’t want to read your own work, no one else will. Learn the rules first before you start breaking them. And for the love of god, don’t write everything in first person. There’s a certain type of story that it fits, but not every story.
SCP: What should readers walk away from your book knowing? How should they feel?
Jessica: Well, I should think they’d know how to serve the perfect Hasenpfeffer, as well as who to avoid at the office party. I hope they feel satisfied, and go back again to visit their favourites from time to time.
Thank you Jessica for taking the time to answer our questions!
And now for a little teaser from one of the stories contained within Viscera…
An Excerpt from
“What about Reality TV?” Dax suggested to the room of studio executives. They were brainstorming show ideas for the next season, and the well had gone dry. They’d run through every sitcom formula, every franchise reboot, not to mention live action versions of beloved classic cartoons, and viewers were getting bored. With the latest writers’ strike now into its third year, producers were looking for more basic forms of entertainment. There was the Gladiator Revival of 2025—and with the latest CGI advancements, they hadn’t even needed to use actual actors—which cut costs substantially. But, people had complained about the lack of emotional involvement, knowing nobody was actually at risk. So that hadn’t lasted very long. But then, game shows were making a comeback—just over thirty years into a new century plagued by economic collapse and global political re-structuring, backward-looking nostalgia was at an all-time high.
“What about Reality TV?” A bored looking woman in her late fifties asked. “It’s all been done.”
“Well, hear me out,” Dax said, flipping through a file containing a proposal she’d been working on for months. “The Russians want to hire out their empty space station, right?”
“Soviets, Dax,” one of the lawyers corrected her. “It’s Soviets again since the latest revolution.”
“Okay, whatever,” Dax dismissed the sniveling man with a wave of her hand. “Russians, Soviets—all I know is that they’re broke, and they’re hiring out their empty but perfectly functional space station.”
Dax looked around the room to see if anyone was thinking what she was thinking, and found herself staring at a lot of blank, unimaginative faces.
“Oh, come on!” She cried, annoyed at their lack of enthusiasm. “Reality TV in space!”
The Vice President of production sighed in disinterest.
“In space, in a school, on a bus, in Hawaii or at the Playboy Mansion—it makes no difference. You put a bunch of socially inept people with carefully chosen adversarial polarizing attributes in a room together, and they get on each other’s nerves and bitch about each other in the confessional interviews. It’s been done to death, and nobody wants to watch that shit anymore. Anybody got any other ideas?”
Dax wasn’t finished.
“Yes, but you can’t escape in space, Mr. Fox,” she said, and something about the dark tone of her voice intrigued the older man.
“Go on,” the VP said, and all eyes suddenly turned to look at Dax.
Cassandra kept very still and pressed her body up against the precious heat of the Artificial Gravity Unit. She pressed her face into her sleeve to muffle the sound of her breathing, which was coming in hitching gasps. She wasn’t sure how many of them were still alive, but she was pretty sure she knew who the killer was. The crazy thing was, nobody was supposed to be dying—not for real—not really dying. It was all supposed to be faked. They explained everything to them during orientation. It was a whole Haunted Mansion scenario, only in space. Nobody was going to get hurt—not really. They were just going to stage some creepy accidents, essentially ‘killing off’ the contestants one a week. And whoever was left at the end would be going home with a million dollars prize money. Well, less tax, of course, but none of them were complaining about that.
The viewers at home would decide who lived and who died—it was sort of an interactive murder mystery, and if you lost popularity in the Internet polls, well…
But it was all staged. The tension came from never knowing. Not even the contestants knew who would be ‘killed’, or when. And the ‘killer’ would always strike when the ‘victim’ was alone. After that, no one ever heard from them again.
Except that Cassie had seen what that monster had done to the last one, and she didn’t think that was something you could fake.
“Randall!” She cried out, catching her breath and gripping tightly to a screwdriver—the only weapon she could find. “Randall, you son-of-a-bitch, are you out there? You better stay away from me. I’m ready for you, Randall, I’m…”
“Well, shit,” Dax swore, pausing the feed. “We’ll have to scrub that—can’t have her spilling the beans before we’re ready.”
Dax sat watching a wall of twenty different monitors. There were cameras all over the station—not counting the camera crew that was there to capture the contestants during meal times, or to take individual interviews at the end of each day.
Dax and her unusually small crew were tasked with editing the footage and packaging it together for the show each week. Dax had personally handpicked the people on her team, and she trusted each of them implicitly. She’d worked on shows in the past where insider information had been leaked to the Internet, and Dax wouldn’t tolerate that for this project.
“Ms. Ginishami,” one of her interns interrupted, an ambitious girl whose name escaped her. “I’m afraid…”
“Please, I’ve told you, call me Dax… um…”
“It’s Becky, Ms… Dax. And I’m afraid the families are still calling. Some of them are quite upset.”
Dax smiled at the young woman. She was too sweet to be pulling damage control duty, but someone had to do it.
“And as I believe I told you before, you need to assure them that HAUNTED is a controlled environment, and their loved ones are resting safely aboard the station. Their radio silence is all part of the illusion—they all signed gag orders as part of their contract. They remain aboard that station until the entire show is over, with no contact with the outside world. They are being generously compensated for their participation.”
“Yes, Ms… Yes, of course. It’s just, the images are quite… convincing.”
“Well, thank you, Becky. That means I’m doing my job.”
“Right,” the intern smiled nervously. “But perhaps if they could just talk to their families.”
“Absolutely not,” Dax snapped. “Out of the question. Do you know how hard it is to create this kind of illusion; to cast this kind of doubt and questioning? Right now, millions of viewers out there are convinced that this just might be real—that they might actually be witnessing something gone horribly awry. Two minutes after you let one of those losers up there talk to their family down here, it will be all over the Internet that it’s fake. And then we might as well all pack up, because it’ll be all over.”
If that excerpt has you intrigued, here’s a little more information about Viscera…
Viscera is a collection of short stories full of all the things that make you squirm, cringe, and laugh when you know you shouldn’t. You’ll remember why you’re afraid of the dark and experience an abundance of weird creatures: witches, ancient gods, and all-too-human monsters – the scariest of all.
Indulge your twisted sense of humor with stories about unconventional werewolves and a woman with a frog fetish. Know what it’s like to arrive too late to save an unusual alien abductee, or giggle with sick delight as a woman serves up a special Hasenpfeffer dinner to her pig of a husband.
Settle in for bedtime stories fit for monsters.
Viscera will grab you by the gut and squeeze, making you cry for mercy—or laugh like a fiend!
Viscera is available on:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Jessica B. Bell is a Canadian writer of strange fiction. It is rumoured that she lives in a damp, dark basement, writing her twisted tales in her own blood on faded yellow parchment. Her stories have been published in various anthologies, the most recent of which is Voices. She also writes under the name Helena Hann-Basquiat, and has published two novels on the metafictional topic of Jessica B. Bell, titled Jessica and Singularity. A third and final novel is planned for 2017.
Find more of Jessica’s (and Helena’s) writing at whoisjessica.com.