Interview with the ‘You Gonna Die, Fly’ Creators

By Jason Harris


You Gonna Die, Fly was released last month. It was my pleasure to talk to Elizabeth Massie and Barbara Spilman Lawson about their creation. Massie wrote the story while Barbara illustrated this cute book.

JH: When did you come up with the concept/idea of You Gonna Die, Fly? Did you two come up with it together? What inspired it?

Elizabeth: A couple years ago, while at NECON (a great July convention in Rhode Island), I bought a copy of It’s Okay to Be a Zombie by Nathaniel Lambert and Danny Evarts. It’s a total hoot, wild and over-the-top, and is marketed as an “unchildren’s book.” I started thinking about how much I get a kick out of books with bright, insane artwork, especially if they illustrate stories that are equally crude, fun, and crazy. I also was aware that summer of how many flies there seemed to be – buzzing around my car, some of the bushes in the yard, and banging into the windows and into me inside the house. I started jotting down ideas for a short tale featuring a fly and his life. Then I showed it to my sister Barb, whose cartoony artwork I adore. She agreed to create the illustrations. We pretty much forgot about it for almost two years, and then we talked it over again during one of our long road trips together (Barb is a professional storyteller, and I often travel with her to help out.)

Once Barb created the character of Fly, with his one little eye/one big eye and ball-shaped body, the rest flowed like fine wine. Or cheap wine. Or stinky swamp water. Okay, like something wet that pours.

Barbara: After Beth wrote the book, she asked me if I’d like to illustrate it. My art style is bold, colorful and cartoony, so a picture book was the perfect idea. And I loved the idea of a “NOT-for kids” picture book. I write and illustrate my own picture books (actually FOR kids – I was a Kindergarten teacher for over 20 years and a professional storyteller now) but I love the chance to illustrate for a different genre. (Is a totally tacky and rude not-for-kids picture book an actual genre? If not, it should be.)

JH: Was Fly going to be the main character all along or did it start out as something else?

Elizabeth: Fly was always going to be the main character. Flies in real life drive me crazy, all buzzy in my ears and hair and banging around and crawling on stuff, but I do have a bit of sympathy for them with their itty-bitty short lives and being flies and all. So I imagined what it might be like for a fly who wanted to search for the meaning of his life, even though he only had two weeks to make it happen.

JH: Barbara, is this the first book you have been the illustrator for? If not, what else have you illustrated?

Barbara: I wrote a children’s book with Beth (Jambo Watoto: Hello, Children, Creative Arts Press, 1998), which was illustrated by artist, Marsha Heatwole. It’s a beautiful art book for kids. But that’s not what you asked, is it? I am just finishing writing and illustrating my own picture book, How Many Words Does It Take To Write A Book? It will be available in September, but not published under the Fucked Up Folktales Publishing line. ‘Cause you know, since it actually is for kids. Thought that was good move. It will be published under Stories With A Twist Books publishing.

Elizabeth: Barb forgot to mention that she has also written and illustrated a number of entertaining picture books toward the Virginia Standards of Learning for public schools under her Fun Stuff Publications imprint. These books have been a hit with kids and lifesaver for teachers needing clear, fun, practical, and memorable materials to teach the standards.

JH: Elizabeth, you have worked with Cortney [Skinner] before? Why not on this book?

Elizabeth: Cortney has been hired to do the artwork and cover designs for a number of my novels and collections – such as the ones for Afraid, Sineater, The Fear Report, Sundown, Naked On the Edge, Homegrown –and he is incredibly talented! However, I’d wanted to collaborate with my sister Barb for a while, and You Gonna Die, Fly seemed like the perfect project. I knew her light-hearted and sometimes insane illustrative style and was sure she would push it over the edge where it belonged!

JH: How long did it take to write and illustrate You Gonna Die, Fly?

Elizabeth: It took me a little over a week, to write the story. Then I let it sit and went over it again for some tweaking. Then it sat and sat and then Barb got her hands on it.

Barbara: When I finally started working on the pictures (a couple of years after Beth first wrote the story), it took about six weeks to get everything finished and ready for printing. As I completed each picture, I sent it to Beth and she checked it out and gave some input. “I really like this one!” or “Well, that sucks the big one.” You know, helpful, constructive input.

JH: You just started Damn You, Demon. When do you think the public will be able to get their hands on it?

Elizabeth: Barb had drawn a round, red, ball-shaped demon picture for another project we have in the works and we realized that the style would be perfect for a second book in the Fucked Up Folktales line. We just came up with the idea a week or so ago, and we’re working on that as we speak. Or will get back to it after we speak here, in this interview. Anyway, I’m guessing it will be ready to order by early September.

Barbara: What she said.

JH: Is there a timetable for the publishing of your books?

Barbara: There is no set timetable for publishing, but hopefully we’ll get all our books published before we’re dead.

Elizabeth: I like selling things before I’m dead. And yes, we have ideas for books beyond Fly and Demon. Oh, we do indeed ….

JH: I loved the first one. It was informative and funny. I actually looked-up online to see if flies only lived two weeks. I didn’t want the story or Fly’s life to end. Did you do research for the book before writing or illustrating?

Barbara: I looked up pictures of flies to see what they are supposed to look like. Then I drew a ball with wings. I also gathered pictures of stinkbugs, ticks, bowl weevils, beetles and lightning bugs for reference (for the insect orgy page).

Elizabeth: Thanks, Jason! We didn’t want Fly’s life to end, either, but damn it, there ya go. As to flies’ lifespans, we checked to see how long they live. Some live just a couple weeks. Some live a month or a little more. Hey, we want our rude, crude, over-the-top, not-for-kids picture books to be based in facts!

JH: You named your publishing company, Fucked Up Folktales. How long did it take to come up with the name? Is there any significance to the name?

Elizabeth: It took about ten seconds to decide the name. I’d recently been hired to write retellings of folktales for a major educational publisher. I researched a lot of folktales and geez louise, a lot of them are messed up. In one country, about 80% of the folktales end with some dude getting his head cut off. Happy-happy folktales! So anyway, while Barb and I were driving into town for some errand or other (did I tell you we live next door to each other, out in the country, so we run errands together fairly often?) I was telling her about the crazy-ass stories. I blurted out, “Those are some fucked up folktales!” Barb got this look on her face and said, “That the name for our line of not-for-kids picture books! Perfect!” And, you see, since folktales are tales made up by and told by folks, and Barb and I like to think of ourselves as folks, we figure ours could be new folktales. Perhaps our little stories will live on into the future, told and retold, read and re-read, like those lovely ones where dudes get their heads cut off.

Barbara: Once we decided on the publishing company name, we got together with our web designer. She hesitated, angled her head a little and asked, “With that name, what if you get some people looking for porn?” And I asked, “Do they buy books?”

JH: How has the response been for the book?

Barbara: Fantastic! Here are excerpts from a few early reviews: “It’s freakin’ hilarious and adorable.” “I honestly thought it was one of the most clever and funniest things I’ve read in a long time!!!” “This book is the poop!” “I LOVE “You Gonna Die, Fly”!!!!! It’s dark and irreverent and … stinky. Perfect!”

JH: How would you describe it to people. A children’s book for adults?

Elizabeth: We purposely call it a “not-for-kids picture book.” We put the “not-for-kids” first for people who can only read and comprehend a few words at a time. Otherwise, they’ll be giving it away to babies to enjoy, and can you imagine the mayhem when babies start acting likes flies, cussing, smoking, drinking, emulating their favorite character? I shudder at the thought.

Barbara: We don’t want it mistaken in any way for a children’s book. We put a picture of Fly smoking a cigarette on the front cover, we described the book as the “Not-for-Kids” book on the back cover so we hope adults will take a little time to flip through it and see it is NOT a kid’s book. We hope it is very clear. We hope adults are that smart.

JH: Besides the website, are there any other places to purchase the book?

Elizabeth: At the moment, the only place to order them is either through our Fucked Up Folktales website, the You Gonna Die, Fly page ( or through the You Gonna Die, Fly Facebook page (instructions are on the page.) Eventually, we’ll look into putting it on Amazon. After we figure how to do that.

Barbara: Yep, we’re working on it ….

Pictures from Necon 33

by Jason Harris

The 33rd Northeastern Writers’ Conference (Necon) has wrapped up another fun filled year. It was great seeing old friends and making new ones, talking about writing and marketing and just having a good time.

Throughout the four-day convention, there were panels including That Line We Crossed: How Explicit is Too Explicit and We’ve Got You Covered: How Print Cover Art Happens. There were also the Necon Olympics: bowling, darts, foosball, and hi-lo-jack.

There was an Meet the Author party on Friday night and an Artist reception on Saturday. A Hawaiian shirt competition, Necon Update, That Damn Game Show and the Infamous Necon Roast also took place during this fun weekend.

Necon campers remembered Rick Hautala, who passed away in March, on Thursday night during his memorial tribute, which was introduced by Christopher Golden.

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Christopher Golden on the panel, “I’ll Buy That for a Dollar: Resurrecting Your Backlist & Marketing the Hell Out of Your Writing (a.k.a. The Business Panel)”

Author Jeff Strand during the Necon Roast.

Author Jeff Strand during the Necon Roast.

Author Heather Graham

Author Heather Graham on the panel, “I’ll Buy That for a Dollar: Resurrecting Your Backlist & Marketing the Hell Out of Your Writing (a.k.a. The Business Panel)”

From left to right: Craig Shaw Gardner, Christopher Golden, Elizabeth Massie, Nicholas Kaufman, and F. Paul Wilson participating in That Damn Game Show.

From left to right: Craig Shaw Gardner, Christopher Golden, Elizabeth Massie, Nicholas Kaufman, and F. Paul Wilson participating in That Damn Game Show.

Author and NEHW member Nicholas Conley holding his book, "The Cage Legacy."

Author and NEHW member Nicholas Conley holding his book, The Cage Legacy.

Craig Shaw Garner about to talk about the prizes for winning That Damn Game Show.

Craig Shaw Garner about to talk about the prizes for winning That Damn Game Show.

Authors Trisha Wooldridge and David Price at the NEHW table.

Authors Trisha Wooldridge and David Price at the NEHW table.

Jeannine Calia finishing shaving author Rio Youers who shaved his head for charity, The Jimmy Fund.

Jeannine Calia fixing the shaving job author Rio Youers had done for charity, The Jimmy Fund.

Author P. Gardner Goldsmith having some fun as he shaves some of Rio Youers' head as Author James Moore films it.

Author P. Gardner Goldsmith having some fun as he shaves some of Rio Youers’ head as author James Moore films it and the blurry Christopher Golden watches.

John M. McIlveen's dealer table.

John M. McIlveen’s dealer table.

The Dealer and Art room at Necon.

The Dealer and Art room at Necon.

Bram Stoker winning poet Linda Addison being roasted.

Bram Stoker winning poet Linda Addison being roasted.

Artist Courtney Skinner during the Necon Roast.

Artist Courtney Skinner during the Necon Roast.

Author Brian Keene during the Necon Roast.

Author Brian Keene during the Necon Roast.

From left to right: writers Catherine Grant, Stacey Longo, and Tracy Carbone.

From left to right: writers Catherine Grant, Stacey Longo, and Tracy Carbone.

Pictures of Necon’s Authors’ Night

Pictures of Necon’s Authors’ Night

by Jason Harris

NEHW Co-chair Stacey Longo and member L.L. Soares.

The NEHW table during Necon’s Authors’ Night.

Author L.L. Soares.

Authors and NEHW members Nick Cato and K. Allen Wood at Authors’ Night.

The view in front of the NEHW table at Authors’ Night.

Authors K. Allen Wood and Stacey Longo at the NEHW table at Necon 32.

NEHW Director of Events Scott Goudsward.

Author and NEHW member Peter N. Dudar signing a copy of his book, A Requiem for Dead Flies.

Mark Angevine and F. Paul Wilson conversing during Necon’s Authors’ Night.

David Bernstein talking with author Jeff Strand during Authors’ Night.

Author and NEHW member Laura Cooney.

Author and NEHW member John McIlveen.

Artist and Illustrator Cortney Skinner listens to fellow Necon camper Mattie Brahen.

Author Lisa Mannetti tries to squeeze in-between authors Elizabeth Massie and Heather Graham.


A Conversation with Author Jan Kozlowski

This entry appeared on author and NEHW member Kate Laity’s website.

Writer Wednesday: Jan Kozlowski

by Kate Laity

My pal and fellow Horror in Film and Literature lister, Jan Kozlowski, first fell in love with the horror genre in 1975 when the single drop of ruby blood on the engraved black cover of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot hypnotized her into buying it. She sold her first story, Psychological Bacchanal to the EWG E-zine in 1997. Her short story, Parts is Parts, won awards in both the International Writing Competition sponsored by DarkEcho’s E-zine and Quoth the Raven’s Bad Stephen King contest. Another short story, Stuff It, was sold to an independent film producer and went into production as a movie short called Sweet Goodbyes. Her short stories have appeared in: Remittance Girl’s A Slip of the Lip anthology, Lori Perkins’ Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance and Fangbangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love.

She is extremely proud and excited to announce that her first novel, Die, You Bastard! Die! debuted February 7, as part of Lori Perkins’ new horror line, Ravenous Shadows, edited by the legendary John Skipp.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o’ paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I do the majority of my writing on my cherished MacBook Pro laptop. I tend to turn my MacBook on at 6:30 a.m. and don’t shut down until 9 p.m. or later most days [Ed: Hmmm, you can shut them down?]. If I either get stuck or get a jones to feel pen against paper, I’ll pull out my old white L&M Ambulance Company clipboard loaded with scrap paper and start scribbling. The board is a souvenir of my days as an urban EMT in Hartford, CT and I keep it around as a reminder of what I COULD be doing for a living.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I almost always listen to my local Dinosaur (Classic) Rock radio station when I’m working. Since Die, You Bastard! Die! is such an ultra violent story, I tried putting together a play list of heavier metal like Avenged Sevenfold (my granddaughter’s favorite band), Testament, Broken Hope, Disturbed, but I ended up distracted by the unfamiliar songs. Listening to the rock I grew up with in the 70’s like Bob Seger, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith, with a little Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Bon Jovi and Bacon Brothers thrown in via iTunes works best for me.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

For me, writing is a business. I’ve been freelancing since I was about 12 and sold articles about raising tropical fish to my hometown newspaper. For the past 15 years or so I’ve run my own freelance writing shop doing all sorts of business and web related writing, editing and research work. Over the past two years, I’ve slowly been moving away from the business projects in order to focus on my horror fiction, but whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction my work style is the same….commit to the project and write until the client, the editor or I’m happy with the finished product.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

That’s already happened…on one of the drafts of Die, You Bastard! Die! I think I managed to gross out my editor, legendary Splatterpunk King, John Skipp! Now if I can, one day, pay Dean Koontz back for the creeps he gave me with his novel Whispers, I’ll die a happy writer.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn’t go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

When I was a little girl my grandfather used to tell me stories about his adventures working for a funeral home during the pre-embalming fluid days. I always thought I would have loved working in mortuary sciences, but when I was going to school women weren’t exactly welcomed into the funeral services industry. Now that times have changed and we have a first class Mortuary Sciences degree program at our local college, I’ve always thought that would make a fabulous Plan B, even now at age 50+.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I try to read a little bit of everything. I get some great ideas from newspapers and magazines. I just discovered and am now devouring Mad Money Wall Street guru, Jim Cramer’s books. I try and read as much classic horror like Robert Bloch, M.R. James, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe and J.N. Williamson as possible. I also try to keep up with who’s publishing today beyond Bestsellersaurus Rexes Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m a huge fan of Edward Lee, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Joe R. Landsdale, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Massie, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, Monica O’Rourke, John Skipp and Andrew Vachss.

I rarely find time to re-read anything unless I’m researching a specific writing technique, like how Jonathan Maberry handled the fight scenes in his Pine Deep trilogy or how Dean Koontz ramped up to the reveal of the cockroaches in Whispers.

Q: Where did the idea for Die,You Bastard! Die! come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration? And is that an awesome title or what?!

The idea for Die, You Bastard! Die! came out of a lovely dinner Ravenous Shadows publisher Lori Perkins and I had during the 2011 Northeast Writer’s Conference, known as NECON. Lori mentioned she was looking for a story about an adult child coming home to take care of her abusive parent and it matched up with a story I had been kicking around for years about a survivor of childhood sexual abuse coming home to deal with her past. After the conference I got home, wrote up the proposal, Skipp green-lighted it and we took off from there. I realize that’s not the way most writers get a book deal but it goes to prove that if you consistently put the hard work in, you WILL find yourself at the right place, at the right time with the right story.

Writing inspiration and story/character/plot ideas are everywhere if you’re open to them…and my motivation for being open to them usually is based on my memories of being paid $5 an hour to be projectile vomited on as an EMT or waitressing at Friendly’s for .60 below minimum wage.

John Skipp raves about this book:

Die, You Bastard! Die! is one hard-as-nails crime story indeed, with a crime at its core so heinous it boggles both mind and soul. That said, it is also a horror story, a mystery, and an insanely taut suspense thriller. Categories are funny like that.

But human monsters don’t get more humanly monstrous than Big Daddy. And it don’t get much rougher and tougher than Jan Kozlowski’s violently matter-of-fact, emotionally ass-kicking, downright incendiary son of a bitch.
I love this book, and stand behind it 100%. Hope it blows you away, as it did me. And has you coming back for more.

Drop by Jan’s blog or website and follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook and check out her Amazon author page. Thanks, Jan!