Priya Sridhar is our featured guest of honor today, as part of our Women In Horror Series.
Priya is speculative fiction and nonfiction writer for about twenty years and counting, a South Asian Indian-American with a lot of imagination. Every story is a journey, about the main character undergoing a great change. Her other books include Carousel, Neo-Mecha Mayhem, and the Powered series from Capstone. She lives in Miami with her family,
Offstage Offerings is a slow-burn horror novel set at a haunted theater. Vivian is applying as a summer camp counselor to pay the bills in between semesters and do more than scoop ice-cream for hours at a time. She finds, however, that the job may entail more than taking care of miniature humans with rich parents. There are strange disappearances, and weird smells running through the theater. Her favorite counselor also gets fired too soon into the job. Vivian must decide if she wants to investigate to protect her kids, or keep herself from getting fired in turn.
Out of all the possible ideas in your head, what inspired you to write Offstage Offerings?
The book came from a dream and a real theater. Offstage Offerings features a condemned theater that used to have a summer camp; the actual place is in Coconut Grove, about twenty minutes away from my house. It still is closed, sadly, owing to debts with the city but used to offer ghost tours as well. I had a dream about a slumber party at a summer camp gone horribly wrong.
Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Offstage Offerings features a few forays into summer camp theater life based on my own memories of being a camper at the local science museum. There were no auditions since usually there were about five to seven girls in a “play” and maybe one or two boys. I did take out the sadness of not even getting a singing part in Grease and having to be a stage extra since the counselors were really nice about it.
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart?
Eris, Vivian’s best friend, does. She’s a sweetheart based on a real person that took care of cats, all sorts, and would watch movies with me. We did cartoons though because I’m not a huge fan of horror movies, let alone terrible grisly shark films. Eris is there for Vivian when the latter needs her, and to comment on the subsequent weirdness that follows.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
In my opinion, it hurts. No one likes a braggart, and we aren’t competing with other writers. You never know when the high of a short story acceptance from one day will fade with the rejections on another one. I admit I have a big ego, and work to control it day in and day out.
When considering the opposite direction, never be afraid to promote yourself, especially if you are starting out. Apply common sense and etiquette.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would that have been?
I probably would have drummed up the courage to apply to a writing camp or summer program. In high school, I did one in journalism over the summer, which was very useful in learning how to structure headlines. There are a few for kids interested in fantasy and science fiction, with reasonable fees. I only applied to one.
A friend in college later told me there were summer writing camps, including one a few hours away. It was a “D’oh!” moment for me because I could have found like-minded people sooner. As an adult, I have fellow writer friends online and here in Miami.
Who is your favourite author and why?
Neil Gaiman is my ride-or-die, hands down. When I was a kid, Coraline enthralled me, and I read Sandman before learning that it was definitely not a comic meant for minors. Even so, the storytelling was alluring, and philosophical to talk about in amateur reviews or analysis. Coraline was about a girl facing a monster who looked like her mother, and Sandman featured the King of Dreams resuming his rightful place after being imprisoned, only to find he had changed too much to remain comfortable.
Neil also has a sense of humor while remaining self-effacing. He once commented on a TV Tropes entry that I had written about one of his short stories, and dryly mentioning how people seek endings even when they are ambiguous.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
That’s a long list. I enjoy reading comfort books, and biking. Watching cartoons and musicals is also great.
I like baking when I can. Since the pandemic started, I experiment a little with recipes, not a lot. Hoping to master baked no-yeast beignets at some point this year.
Would you rather live in a haunted mansion or live in a un-haunted cottage?
Haunted mansion, absolutely. I went on a ghost tour with my sister last year in New Orleans and had a blast. This also informed the tour in the prologue of Offstage Offerings. Mansion also means plenty of writing space.
Coke or Pepsi?
I prefer Coke to Pepsi. Though in all honesty, you can satisfy me with a root beer.
How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
It seems like I have infinite. Currently, I have about seven story drafts open on my computer, and I fiddle with them. They will go down eventually,
One of the potential drafts is about a tourist trap town, where it’s Christmas every day. The tourist protagonist gets roped into a plot to summon a Christmas-destroying monster, only everyone realizes they bit off more than they could chew. It will probably have Krampus in it, and boys having to run for their lives.
Can you tell us about a woman who inspired you. And tell us why?
Shirley Jackson inspired me. While I think “Charles” is better written in context, with the novel Among the Savages, “The Lottery” was pretty much a tour-de-force. It builds horror gradually and shows us what can be normalized with the right or wrong traditions.
Silvia-Moreno Garcia is another inspiration. She accepted one of my early stories for a Women in Lovecraft anthology. I’ve read a few of her books, including Mexican Gothic. Silvia is always about looking beneath the surface, and railing against unfair systematic problems without preaching.
Can you explain, in your opinion, what you feel are the different perspectives or focuses between women and men when it comes to the creating horror literature?
Hmm, this feels like a loaded question. When you’re talking about men and women, you also have to factor in those who are trans, nonbinary, or intersex. We have different experiences based on how our identities define us, and what we bring into the world.
Sometimes we share our fears. After all, most people I know had moments where the shadows in the dark proved terrifying. Others were bullied in school and found catharsis when Stephen King’s Carrie took revenge on her bullies. The horror in that story comes from both Carrie’s all-too-realistic situation of being bullied and abused at home, as well as how destructive her revenge eventually becomes.
You also have to look at the type of horror before attributing it to gender. When I was writing Offstage Offerings, I had to watch B horror movies for the revisions to get the tone right. Initially, it was more like a story that would have appeared in The Dark, assuming The Dark would have accepted it. B horror requires a greater sense of fun, and focus on the cheap scares.
My experience as a woman is to write about what scares me, but I rarely go into deeper stuff about the past four years and about having broken systems rule me forever. My fears in horror are more about the visceral, of people holding onto things and friends they shouldn’t keep. I think about what it’s like growing up in a place that is fundamentally wrong, and how a person copes.
A great big thanks to Priya for her insights and for taking the time to be a part of our Women In Horror Series. Offstage Offerings is available from Unnerving in paperback and Kindle.
Offstage Offerings (Rewind or Die Book 17) by Priya Sridhar
Vivian starts her summer counseling gig at the Haunted Basilio Theater, hoping all the ghosts are harmless. At first, the kids under her wing are more trouble than any random winds rustling the costumes or funny noises from rats. Then her mentor gets the boot, and the kids vanish into the dark recesses. The pigeons on the roof are hostile.
The boss says ‘don’t ask questions,’ but Vivian wants answers. She just needs the courage to enter locked doors with the right keys.
Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.