An interview with S.A. Barnes

Last Updated on December 26, 2022

Also writing under Stacey Kade, S.A. Barnes is a published author across multiple genres. She was kind to chat with GdM about her life and writing. Her latest Dead Silence from Nightfire Books released on February 8, 2022. A tale of “psychological horror and hallucinogenic madness,” you can read our complete review of Dead Silence here.

Cover for Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes[GdM] Your previous written books published under Stacey Kade feature contemporary and YA elements. What inspired you to branch out into horror?

[SAB] I didn’t set out to write horror, believe it or not. I thought I was writing a (very tense and creepy) science fiction thriller! That being said, I love horror. It is one of the first genres I discovered as a kid when I was allowed to wander into the adult section of the library—Stephen King, VC Andrews, Dean Koontz, etc.

So, it doesn’t surprise me that those influences seeped into my brain and shaped my efforts to write this book.

[GdM] What aspects of horror fascinate you the most?

[SAB] For me, it’s always about the people. No matter what creature/killer/unknown evil force is chasing the characters, it’s always about their human weaknesses and flaws and trying to overcome them in the face of absolute danger. That struggle to be the better version of themselves.

And, on the flip side, my favorite horror stories are about how we—humans—are our own worst enemies. For example, in Aliens (LOVE that movie), it’s not the aliens I was most angry with but Paul Reiser’s character, Burke, for being all about the money. He was willing to sacrifice Ripley and Newt because of greed, and that just feels so much worse.

[GdM] Did any of your childhood fears find its way into Dead Silence?

[SAB] Oh, definitely. I have to be careful here because of spoilers, but the scene where Claire falls asleep in the cabin is drawn directly from a childhood fear. Actually, if I’m being honest, a fear that still exists today!

[GdM] Is there a horror author you’re specifically inspired by?

[SAB] Stephen King has been a huge influence my whole life, even before I knew I wanted to be a writer. But specifically, I loved his book, On Writing, as I was trying to figure out what I was doing as a writer. I still refer back to it regularly. (Though I would imagine he would be dismayed to hear this, given my continuing use and love of adverbs!)

[GdM] You work in a high school library, have there been any noticeable changes in what people are reading now?

[SAB] It’s interesting, people like to complain about kids being on their phones all the time, but I see students reading books—actual paper books—daily. They definitely prefer print, even if it means waiting on hold for a physical copy of a book instead of an immediately available e-book.

Book Tok has been a big influence on what titles students are requesting, which is cool because we’re seeing some authors/books that students may not have otherwise known about or been interested in.

I also see the effects of what’s being called a horror renaissance, in that when we were trying to put together a display, our supernatural/horror section was practically empty. All checked out!

[GdM] In Dead Silence, six hundred and fifty people had vanished on the once luxury spaceliner, the Aurora. The ship lost for more than twenty years until Claire and her team stumble up on it. Why choose space as the setting?

[SAB] I find space absolutely fascinating, along with our endeavors to live in/work in/explore it. It’s been interesting to watch all the strides made as space exploration shifts to private industry endeavors. For better or worse. (I have strong feelings on this, which is probably fairly obvious in the book!)

But from a purely practical standpoint, space is just an excellent setting for amping up tension and making the situation more difficult for our characters. If there’s a serial killer or evil clown in your basement, you can at least try to run, but in space? On a ship? There’s nowhere to go. Plus, there are all these restrictions we have to work around (zero-grav) and ways in which space can kill you without help from any outside force (faulty life support systems, etc.)

[GdM] The magnificence of the ship Aurora now turned graveyard creates a chilling ambience even before Claire ventures inside. Was creating such a strong atmospheric presence your original intention?

[SAB] Oh, heck yes! That was the part of the story I knew first. They find this ship and end up wandering through it, the rooms frozen in time. There’s something so eerie and compelling about places that have every sign of human habitation, but no humans. Abandoned amusement parks, Pompeii, Pripyat (near Chernobyl).

They feel haunted, even without a supernatural presence.

[GdM] You took particular care in not only detailing Claire and her team, but also the lost passengers from the Aurora. Were any lost passengers inspired by real events?

Author photo of S.A. Barnes[SAB] I’m obsessed with the Titanic. I drew heavily on the idea that the Aurora would similarly be populated by the wealthy and famous. I had some fun with determining who would be famous and why, so you’ve got influencers on the ship, athletes, movie stars, and royalty. I particularly enjoyed writing the Dunleavys.

[GdM] Were there any characters either from Claire’s team or from the lost Aurora cut from the final version?

[SAB] Actually, no. Claire’s team and the passengers on the Aurora remained mostly the same. If anything, I added more passengers to the Aurora to give a broader sense of who was on board and the scale of the wealth and fame involved.

[GdM] Claire has a well-documented history of psychosis. Throughout the novel, she struggles to distinguish between actual events and her hallucinations. I love how we are never sure how much we can trust her. What inspired you to write such an unreliable narrator?

[SAB] Hmm. Is it psychosis or does she really see ghosts? That is the angle I was looking to play up. Because I’m very interested in the nature of our shared reality. In other words, reality is a mutually agreed upon decision. We point at something and call it “red,” for example, but I have no idea what you’re seeing versus what I’m seeing.

And how we treat someone who perceives reality outside that “norm” seems to depend on our own comfort level. We believe someone who talks to people who aren’t there is likely a person in need of treatment for mental illness. But someone who claims to see the future or talk to the dead can offer those services for payment, and we don’t bat an eye. (Clearly, the level at which these things disrupt a person’s life and make treatment necessary is a factor; I’m just interested in why some out-of-the-norm experiences are deemed acceptable, and some aren’t.)

Also, from a reader standpoint, I was curious why, if mediums exist now, why are they not represented in the future? Where are all the ghosts in the future?

But yes, I absolutely wanted people to be uncertain about what’s actually happening in Claire’s mind. Because Claire herself feels that way and I think the most terrifying thing of all is not being able to trust your own judgement, your own perceptions of what’s happening around you. I think our collective grasp on reality is far more tenuous than any of us would like to believe.

[GdM] Mental illness can be so easily misrepresented in media. What preparations were involved or how did you approach this aspect of Claire’s character?

[SAB] I did some research on PTSD, but I also drew heavily on my own experiences with clinical anxiety. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder with OCD, and I spent years fighting it, trying to manage it myself before I realized I needed help. It was only when my anxiety was on the verge of taking over was I able to see that I couldn’t do it on my own, that if I didn’t get some help anxiety/OCD would become my whole life. (Years of therapy and, more recently, meds have made an enormous difference.)

I think Claire wrestles with some of the same issues I did—not being sure if she can trust her own judgment, not wanting people to treat her differently because of her mental health struggles, working to accept that this is part of who she is but not her entire identity.

[GdM] Where there any parts that were difficult to write?

[SAB] The beginning. I wrote the opening chapters a half a dozen times even before official revisions with my editor. At one point, it opened with a POV chapter from Reed Darrow. I scrapped that pretty quickly, but I learned from it, so it wasn’t a completely wasted effort.

For me, writing a book always feels like a complicated dance, and you have to start on the right foot or the whole thing is off.

[GdM] What are your future writing projects?

[SAB] I have a couple ideas in process right now. The first is another science fiction horror story, set on a planet where isolation, perpetual darkness, and proximity to eerie ancient ruins start to affect our characters…or maybe it’s something more.

The other is a more straight-forward horror story involving middle school friendships, backstabbing, and, you know, demons. It’s about the trauma we inflict on each other at that particular age and how it follows us—literally sometimes—into adulthood.

Read Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes

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Carrie Chi Lough

Carrie Chi Lough

Carrie resides in Colorado with her other half and their puppy, Irwin. She is always searching for dark SFF and horror stories to bury herself in.