In between exploring the wilds of eastern Tennessee, keeping peace between her six cats and one dog, and being a ghost hunter, Sharon Higa is also a working author. Wanting to learn more about her career and her upcoming novel, Preacher Bridges, Higa allowed me to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: What are some stories that you loved reading as a child? Do you find yourself ever revisiting any of these?
Sharon Higa: I loved all of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and, believe it or not, Edgar Allen Poe. I also got hooked on Robert McCammon at a very young age (my favorite of his is Wolf’s Hour), and I repeatedly go back and re-read a lot of the Brothers Grimm. I am lucky to actually own a first edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s works – one of my most treasured possessions.
Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Was there a specific moment that crystallized this goal for you?
Higa: I always loved telling stories, and an older cousin of mine encouraged this by telling me ghost stories he made up when I was 6 years old. I was a sophomore in high school and had finished a short story (yes, it was a horror story) for my English class when Mrs. Tobin, my English teacher, asked me if she could submit my story to a competition. I took 2nd place. That was the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer.
Yanes: You live in Eastern Tennessee, which is home to breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. Has the landscape and the culture of this area at all shaped your approach to writing?
Higa: This area is filled with tales of hauntings and horror, so yes, it has helped shape my stories and writing style. I have a novella, “The Dam,” which is a horror story based on an urban legend surrounding the lake I currently live near. I would have to say my style of writing – I like to write as if my characters were telling the tales themselves – also comes from the down home, informal attitude that is very prevalent in the South.
Yanes: You are also an amateur ghost hunter. What is one of the more powerful experiences you’ve had while ghost hunting? On this note, what is your favorite ghost story of all time?
Higa: I would have to say the most powerful experience was actually talking to a spirit, then finding his gravesite a few years later. I won’t go into great detail, but he introduced himself to me and a group of girlfriends through a Ouija board. He told us that he was poisoned – not died from sickness as stated on his tombstone – he had two sisters buried behind him, his name, his age at the time of death and where he was from. When I found his grave about two years later, and subsequently researched him through archives, I discovered that everything he had revealed to us, except the way he died, which we could not prove, was absolute truth. My favorite ghost story is “The Bell Witch,” a true haunting which occurred here in Tennessee. It has always fascinated me, since so many prominent figures witnessed the spirit’s antics and actions, as well as the majority of the townsfolk, and the perspectives and points of view of who, or what, the entity was still keeps me guessing.
Yanes: Your novella, Horrors & Occupational Hazards, has a lot of buzz around it. What is this story about?
Higa: Horrors & Occupational Hazards is a compilation of short tales that have to do with normal, everyday jobs which end up with some very abnormal twists to them. I got the idea for the first story in the book while sitting in the beauty parlor where I’ve had my hair and nails done for the past 12 years. ITw brought the idea of the story up to my hair dresser and her two friends who run the shop, and they absolutely loved it. The following Saturday I was over my cousin’s brainstorming the book in general and…there it was. I wrote the whole novella in one week.
Yanes: Given that Horrors & Occupational Hazards is a collection of short stories, how did you make sure each piece stood out while keeping a consistent tone?
Higa: I am an absolute fanatic and fan of the “Twilight Zone” series, as well as the old “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” so I modeled each piece as closely as possible to the concepts of those TV series, and focused on keeping each story a miniature tale, and, while being able to stand on its own, still carried the theme through, to the end of the novella.
Yanes: One of your upcoming novels is a zombie western, Preacher Bridges. What was the inspiration for this novel?
Higa: Believe it or not, it began as a random thought I had while flipping through tv channels one evening. I was watching an old western, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was not able to recall a zombie story ever set in the Old West – so, that got me to thinking, and…I looked up at the TV – the western had finished, and the series Supernatural had started playing. I saw Dean Winchester and…BAM…there was my lead character, Preacher Bridges, and a general idea for the story.
Yanes: Given how many zombie stories are currently on the market, what did you do to make this one feel fresh?
Higa: I believe it was my approach to putting the story together. I remembered reading about a woman who had been nicknamed Typhoid Mary Mallon, an initial carrie
r of Typhus, who was a cook in the 1900’s. She ended up contaminating over fifty-one people before the disease was traced back to her. For some weird reason, my mind grabbed onto the idea of someone coming back from the dead and ending up reanimating others as well, just from being near the graves. I now had my one main character, my plot, and the story took on a life of its own from there on out.
Yanes: Overall, when people finish reading your stories, what do you hope they take away from them?
Higa: I hope they take away a feeling that they have just read something unique and different. I like subtle horror, so if I made your skin crawl and have you turning on lights before you enter a room, that would suit me just fine. I also hope that one story may give them the incentive to pick up another book or short story of mine and enjoy the next trip into the unknown.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are working on that people can look forward to?
Higa: I am actually working on another collection of horror, this time a composition of flash fiction and short stories written over the past four years, using the various prompts from the Roane Writers Group – which I am a member and the vice president – in my hometown. The title is ‘To the Edge and Back…’ and I hope to have it completed by the beginning of 2018.
I am also working on a mystery/drama titled ‘Buried Truth’; about a young woman found buried alive on another lady’s property. I have another horror novel in the works titled ‘Hell’s Belle’ – it is about a female Demon Wrangler in Hell. This novel evolved from my short story titled ‘Demon Wrangler,’ which was published in an anthology by JEA Press.
I also have four other novels in various stages of completion, which I hope to have out within the next two years or so. That, coupled with the dozen other ideas for stories that I currently have rolling around in my head probably means I will be a very busy girl for a long time to come.