Author Interview – Paul Leone
Following on from that exclusive reveal of the cover art and back-cover blurb for his upcoming Occult Detective collection The Mysteries of Zillah Harvey: Volume One, author Paul Leone graciously agreed to sit down with The Scifi and Fantasy Reviewer and have a chat about his background, what inspired him to write across so many different genres, and what led him to write the Zillah Harvey stories.
Hi there Paul, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on The Scifi and Fantasy Reviewer! Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into the writing game?
Hi. Thank you for offering me the opportunity! I really appreciate it. As for me, I’m a 40-something geek who lives in Western New York. I first started writing when I was in middle school, typing out Quantum Leap fanfic on my dad’s home computer. I don’t think I finished any of them, which is still a problem i struggle with to this day.
When you started to write, were there any particular authors and settings that inspired you; and perhaps still do?
My main influence is probably JRR Tolkien, although I rarely write much outright fantasy. In the mix of urban fantasy and horror that makes up most of my stories, I’d say writers like Manly Wade Wellman and Bram Stoker have been a big influence on me, as well as more recent authors such as Mike Mignola, William Meikle, Josh Reynolds and Craig Schaefer.
I think one of the first things to notice about your output of titles is that you’ve published in a variety of different genres, which is quite unusual for authors. What attracts you to a particular genre or sub-genre?
I tend to write in the kind of genres I’m interested in, which is probably true for any author. I’ve been a fan of alternate history for a long time, first coming across it in a series of anthologies called Alternate __ back in the 90s. The idea of history being slightly or not so slightly different appeals to me, not least because I have a history degree. Likewise with horror – my mother let me watch movies like The Omen and The Exorcist before I probably should have, and the roots burrowed deep into my brain.
Following on from that, has your writing changed over the course of writing different books in different genres?
I hope so! Looking back on some of my earlier stories, I think I’ve learned to put a little more flesh on the bones as far as describing scenes and locations, and what characters are feeling and thinking.
You’ve had titles released by publishers, as well as done some self-publishing yourself. What did you find to be the key differences? I realize it’s an eternal debate – but was one preferable to the other?
There’s a lot more satisfaction in having a work released by a publisher, I’d say. Someone else deciding you wrote something worth publishing is very gratifying. On the other hand, self-publishing means you have total control of the product – the cover, the content, etc. – even if you have to work harder to spread the word that it exists and is available for purchase.
So, moving onto your new collection – what made the Occult Detective sub-genre so appealing?
A long time ago, I came across a collection of short stories about vampire hunters. That might even have been the title. It had a picture of Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing in the Coppola Dracula movie on the cover. One of the stories was Manly Wade Wellman’s “The Last Grave of Lill Warren” – about an urbane New Yorker who investigates a vampire case in Appalachia. It was the first occult detective story I’d ever come across and I fell in love with the idea. I like how it combines the practical work of a detective with the creepy fun of a horror story. I’m also really interested in tales of the paranormal, so that makes the genre even more entertaining to me.
Can you tell us a little about Zillah Harvey as a character, and how this new collection came about specifically?
Zillah Harvey started out as just another worker in the grimy heart of Victorian London. I thought it would be interesting to write about someone who survived an encounter with Jack the Ripper and, as a result of her near death experience, ancient preternatural powers were unlocked. And she immediately put those powers to use to make a lot of money as a spirit medium – as you do. Since her first experience, she’s been drawn deeper and deeper into ancient mysteries and modern conspiracies. I’ve been writing her adventures for about six or seven years now, and I realized there’s more than enough of them to make up a good-sized collection.
I’ve noticed that character development can be difficult in short stories, compared to novellas or novels. Given that this is a collection dealing with the same character – Zillah Harvey – how did you balance the self-contained nature of short stories with a need to undertake character development?
It’s been a gradual and mostly subconscious process of developing Zillah’s character. She’s slowly starting to come to terms with what’s been riding around inside her since her brush with the Ripper, and also becoming more and more important to Britain’s occult underground, specifically the Savant Club she belongs to. There’s some development within individual stories, but most of it is a slow evolution between the first story, “The Mystery of the Dying Woman”, and the more recent ones.
Is there an overarching story within this volume, or perhaps a theme? Or would you say it’s more a set of self-contained stories?
Don’t meddle with spirits! (Zillah herself should probably take that more to heart) The main ‘metaplot’ of the collection is Zillah’s interactions with, and manipulation by, the Savant Club and its leaders. Not every story touches on that, but the ones that do are some of my favorites.
Do you have a favourite story in the collection?
I like “The Mystery of the Horrifying Homecoming” and “The Mystery of the Golden Hunt” because they tie into the mythology of my non-Zillah ‘Leone-verse’ stories. ‘The Mystery of the Savant Club’, which I wrote specifically for this collection, was also a lot of fun as it let me fill in some of the gaps between the first story and the later ones, correcting my violation of the “show, don’t tell” and “don’t have important events happen ‘off-screen'” rules of writing back then.
How do you see Zillah Harvey developing? Do you plan to keep to short stories, or would you perhaps consider expanding to novellas or even a novel?
I have no firm plans right now, just some developing ideas of where she’ll end up, but I’d like to write another collection of short stories and then cap off her adventures with a novella.
And finally – what’s next for you once this collection is published and available to readers? More Zillah Harvey? Or perhaps a return to Alternate History?
I have plans to release a novella set in the same world, but set slightly later and focusing on a very different character named Elise Cooper, and then two collections of short stories (a mix of urban fantasy, military horror, sci-fi and a few X-Files inspired tales).
With any luck I can have them both out later this year and early next year. After that, I have a trio of alternate history short stories (set in the same alternate world as In and Out of the Reich) that need some editing and rewriting before I can see if anybody might be interested in publishing them.
Well, thanks for chatting with the blog Paul! I wish you the best of luck with your writing, and look forward to seeing what you come up with next!
If you’re interested in any of Paul’s titles, all of which I can highly recommend, they can be found through his Author Page on Amazon. His latest collection, The Mysteries of Zillah Harvey: Volume One, is scheduled to be released on the 1st September 2020, and you can preorder it from the following links:
I recently did an exclusive reveal of the fantastic cover art and back-cover blurb for the collection, which you can see again below:
Zillah Harvey was once just another faceless worker in the grimy underbelly of Victorian London. A chance encounter with a knife-wielding madman almost ended her life… and awoke the preternatural powers in her blood.
Using those powers to become a medium, communing with the spirits of the dead, she soon found herself swept up in the horrifying realities of the occult.
From sinister Carpathian noblemen and ancient Greek monsters to ghostly Templar churches and haunted idols, these thirteen tales see Zillah investigate and battle evil from the lonely Atlantic coast of Ireland to the rural heart of France…