Meet the Writer: Rebecca Frost

Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Rebecca Frost. We met in the most unusual way! When my mom and I read two books with serial killers in a row (highly unusual for us), she asked if the obsession with serial killers occurs in other countries. I tried Googling the answer, as one does, and came upon a dissertation called “Identity and Ritual: The American Consumption of True Crime.” I started emailing with Frost, and over the last couple of weeks we learned that we have a friend in common! Weird. Frost earned her PhD in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture and seems to have a yarn habit, too; she says all the sweaters she’s wearing in her photos below are ones she knitted.

Grab the Lapels: What kind of writing do you do? What kind of writing do you wish you did more of?

Rebecca Frost: At this point my publications are all nonfiction and academic, but I’m actually working about 50/50 between nonfiction and fiction. I can’t say anything official about the second half quite yet, so that’s sort of a “keep on eye on this space” teaser, but I’ve been writing original fiction for fun since I was 15 years old. I’ve also participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2010, and my friends will tell you I totally light up when I talk about it. (Have you heard the good news of NaNoWriMo?)

For my nonfiction, I do both chapters for edited collections (shorter works, usually around 8,000 words) and my books on serial killers — and, coming up, on Stephen King’s novels. The chapters are usually built around a theme and let me take a step away from a larger project to focus on a different angle. The books take more time, both because of the research and the fact that the nonfiction writing process just feels so much slower to me.

I wish I had the time to do more blog posts for my website. I like being able to share insights into my writing process and facets of my research somewhere more accessible than either conferences or my books. It’s fun to have the engagement of comments and responses, so it feels like it’s more than just me and the blinking cursor.

GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

RF: I think the classes I took and the academic experiences I’ve had, including conferences, have made me almost excruciatingly aware of word choice. It’s made me deliberate in what I say and write, depending on the audience and purpose. Writing is harder than speaking in some ways because you can’t judge your audience’s reaction and adjust based on what you see.

There are very specific ways of engaging with an academic audience in writing, and a lot of pitfalls or pushback for not sounding “academic enough,” so it’s helped me figure out how to word my thoughts on that expected level when I have to. I want my work to reach more people than just those in the academy, though. Since my research deals with true crime, serial killers, and Stephen King, it straddles that line and is actually interesting to a wider audience. A lot of my friends note people’s eyes glaze over when they start talking about their work and the conversation stalls, but I rarely have that problem. Some people smile and change the subject anyway, but a lot of people lean in and want to talk more.

GTL: In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

RF: I get to have many interesting conversations with people about my research when we’re not stuck in the world of academia. It’s very freeing to have someone ask me about what I do and not have to think about methodology or how to justify my response. We just get to talk about it, and go back and forth about what we’ve heard or read or watched, without having to try to prove that the topic is “worthy.”

It’s also been helpful to read widely and be able to talk with people from all sorts of different backgrounds. I have friends who’ve had some of the most amazing experiences — worked 25 years as a prison librarian, moved to New Zealand for a decade, works behind the scenes on TV shows and movies you’d recognize — and it’s just so much fun to hear about their lives (and fact-check the experience if it’s relevant to my writing). Talking with my friends, especially outside academia, is really grounding and helps provide a more well-rounded perspective on things. I think there’s a tendency on both sides to draw a hard line between “this is academic and this isn’t,” and to make strong arguments for which is better, but at this point I’d have to say anyone who tries to keep things separate is just missing out.

GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

RF: When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be four things: an astronomer, a marine biologist, a teacher, and an author, since I didn’t think there was any job that would pay you to just sit around and read books all day. I wanted to explore the places that are hard to get to and that not many people see first-hand. I ended up gravitating more toward English classes as school went on and figured out that I could still explore without having to carry an air tank and wear a special suit.

I think I’ve kept that sense of curiosity even if I’m a bit more practical about it — reading a book about Carl Sagan instead of wanting to become him, for example. But I do still read widely, and my academic work shows that interdisciplinarity. I started writing about Stephen King, for example, when I’d only been working on true crime, because I read his novella “A Good Marriage,” based on the real-life serial killer known as BTK. I’m always looking for connections between what I already know and the new things I’m learning, and those help with both my fiction and nonfiction writing.

GTL: What are your current writing projects?

RF: There’s a reason my friends will come to me with questions about how to juggle multiple projects at once. Right now, at this very moment, I have four different books in different stages of the process. My upcoming book, Surviving Stephen King: Reactions to the Supernatural in Works by the Master of Horror, will be out later this year, so I’ll be doing proofs and indexing soon. I have another academic manuscript due to the publisher this summer, and I’m working on the final touches for that one.

I think the most I can say about the other two projects right now is that I have signed a contract for my debut novel, due out summer 2022, and that I am in negotiations on another novel. Those will both involve editing and then promotional schedules, which aren’t usually a “thing” with academic books, so I’m looking forward to being able to talk about my fiction, too. Usually I finish what I’m writing and move on, but this will mean engaging with more people about my work and finally being able to talk about these characters who’ve been in my head for at least four years.

Then, in the background, I have my notebooks with ideas floating around for my next project. Whenever I have an idea, big or small, I make sure to write it down so I don’t forget it. Sometimes the notes just sit there, but other times they spark more and more connections until I can build an entire piece out of it.

GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing? 

RF: Right, so that’s basically any day that ends in Y.

I used to teach college composition, and I’d tell students the same thing: we’re absolutely the worst judges of our own writing. We’re too close to it. With my own work, I try to schedule some smaller deadlines so I can create a draft and then let it sit, untouched, for at least a month before I come back to it and give myself space that way. The other option — the scarier option — is actually sharing it with someone else whose opinion you trust, and then forcing yourself to believe the good things they say.

If I’m working under a deadline, I can’t always let things sit that long, but I’ll still take some time anyway. When I notice that I’m feeling nothing but grumpy about my writing, I’ll save it, close the laptop, and go do something else for a while: get some air, hit the treadmill, what have you. Then, after a break, I’ll come back and look at it again with fresh eyes.

The other biggest tip is “Don’t stop.” You learn to write by writing. The more you do it, the better you’ll get, even before you take the next step of sharing it with someone and getting feedback. I have folders upon folders of writing that only one or two people in the world have ever seen, and it’s going to stay that way, because I look back on it now and cringe, but I kept going. I don’t know if you really have to write a million words before you get any good at it, but I do know that stopping means that is the best I’ll ever be.

In grad school, I had a professor who said, “Writing is never done – it’s just due.” There’s always something I think I could (or should) change in a piece of writing, but I have to let it go eventually. Nobody’s ever going to read it if I only ever keep it to myself like some sort of dragon hoarding (presumably) bad pages. Take a break, come back with fresh eyes, and just keep writing.

79 comments

  1. Her sweaters look cozy as fuck.
    As you know, Moth and I are currently reading Pet Sematary. What you don’t know, is that I swore off Stephen King YEARS ago. I was pretty obsessed with his writing (although I somehow skipped a lot of the classics) when I was an early teen. Eventually, my issue became that I couldn’t stand the length of time it took him to really get to the meat of the story. I felt that you could just flip to the middle of one of his books, start there, and not miss too much. Second, my issue was with some of his weird sexual comments/situations. What I specifically remember being the straw that broke the camels back was the detailed description of a young girl’s pubic hair (Bag of Bones).
    Fast forward 20 years and I’m giving him another go, because he is a master of horror and I missed out on some of the best ones back then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My sweaters are, indeed, cozy as fuck – necessary for when you live where I do and we’ve had measurable snow 11 months out of the year.

      Pet Sematary is one of his worst as far as actually getting into the story. You’re supposed to fall in love with the family and really care about them by the time the real horror starts happening, but … not everybody relates to King’s characters. (Especially with some of the weird comments … Just the other day someone told me “I don’t read Stephen King because he talks about testicles too much.” Fair.)

      At least at this point he has sooooo many books, so it’s both easier to pick and choose, and to find one you might actually like. There are definitely some I groan about when I realize they’re a good example for my current critique topic, and then someone else comes along and tells me it’s their favorite.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I also read a weird description of Carrie, something about her looking ape-like. I think for someone who has a super long career like King does, he’s going to have some skeletons in his scary closet, and he can’t get rid of them now. These days, people complain his books are too pandering to liberal people when he does things like include a lesbian neighbor to the main character, things like that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh for sure. My abandonment of him was in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. I would have been about 13-14 and was skeeved out.
        I quite literally hate people who say shit like that. LGBTQA+ people have existed all along. Stop acting like their representation in a book is a crime or a political leaning. My husband’s cousin complains that Disney is pushing it’s gay agenda on his kids. The kids aunt is gay. Is her existence pushing her gay agenda on his kids?
        I’m so lucky to have belonged to a family that is so open-minded and I have the best gay uncles. I’ve known so much love from them. People are just missing out for the stupidest fucking reasons.

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    • It’s what I kept repeating to myself last year when all the rejections were rolling in: if you stop now, you’ll never get a novel published. It really sucks when it feels like you’re just getting a constant stream of “no.” Breaks are fine – take some time off with a deadline to come back to it later – but not stopping completely. Change gears, sign up for a workshop, read a new book on writing … but keep at it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rebecca, do you have much opportunity for a community writing group where you are? I know I’m in a bigger city that you, but it seems like not much serious happens with creative writing around here.

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        • I’m part of a weekly writing group that went virtual for a while but is starting to meet up again. And part of a couple digital-only groups. But yeah, we’re fairly isolated up here so it’s been a long slog – for years the in-person group was just me and one other person.

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          • I think part of the problem where I am is there are so many college writing programs in the area that those types of writers don’t want to meet with townies, whose writing isn’t “literary” enough. But sometimes the townies fall back on comments that they liked/didn’t like what you wrote without much reason beyond personal preference.

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            • I think it’s important (and difficult) to find the right group: people who have the same purpose and expectations as you do. We’ve had a couple people join for a little bit and then … drift away because our goals don’t really line up. There are some self-publishers in our group, for example, but the group isn’t ABOUT self-publishing. We all kind of Venn diagram our way with different groups to cover purpose, genre, feedback, support, etc.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. That cardigan in the second picture is gorgeous – lovely colours and looks very comfy!

    I think this is one of my favourite Meet the Writer interviews that you’ve featured, Melanie – especially the stuff about writing for different audiences. Even in my academic work I vary between writing for other academics and writing for clinicians. That’s before you get into writing something that’s intended to be nonfiction for laypeople, writing original fiction for fun (which I also do), and I even still go through phases of writing fanfiction (though, mercifully, not nearly as much as when I was a teenager and hopefully to a higher quality), which is obviously for an audience of people who are already committed to a particular story or set of characters, so different again. It’s a new process every time and I think it’s one of the things that keeps me engaged and wanting to write!

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    • Thank you! The cardigan was the first time I’d ever steeked – cut open my knitting. It’s knit like a regular pullover and then cut open to add the neckband. I was so happy it didn’t fall apart!

      Audience is major, especially when coming from a rhetoric background. I had to go through a major transition after grad school – the editorial comments back on my first book proposal were a gentle but firm “this isn’t grad school anymore. You don’t have to x, y, and z.” There’s a definite headspace I get into for the academic writing, and the fiction is a nice break from maybe feeling like I have to impress my audience too much …

      That’s awesome that you do both academic and fiction, too! Have you ever done National Novel Writing Month? (I would be remiss if I didn’t try to NaNoVangelize at lest a little bit.)

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yay! I am a HUGE fan (and I’ve been ML for Michigan :: Upper Peninsula since 2012). I tend to pick a vague idea early in the year and let it percolate, but I don’t actually go into November with a plot outline. I don’t even always have character sheets. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

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          • A bit of both – I tend to write historical fiction during Nanowrimo, because it’s a fun excuse to explore an historical period that’s completely new to me, so I often go in with lots of research about the time period and some clear characters in my head, but not a completely outlined plot. (On the subject of academic v fiction writing, I find it very difficult not to include extensive references and explanatory footnotes when I’m writing fiction!) I have definitely become more of a plotter and less of a pantser over time though – otherwise I get demotivated when I stall, rather than having a different bit of plot ready for me to move onto.

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            • See I’m kind of lazy when it comes to NaNoWriMo – if I haven’t already researched it, I’m not writing it! I’ll either do fantasy where I can make everything up or write about serial killers and put my dissertation to use. And yes, when I trot out some fact about Kemper or Bundy or Dahmer, I’m tempted to add the reference to be all “Look, I know what I’m talking about!”

              I totally get the “stall protection” approach. There are some drafts where it’s clear I was getting sick of what was happening and decided to do a hard left. For one of them, I crashed a bus and killed all but two of my characters, and then went on from there … oops. Not recommended.

              What historical periods are your favorite?

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        • I have one blogger friend, Amal @ The Misfortune of Knowing, who does it every year and comes out with a book after. She self-publishes, but they’re all wonderfully written and edited.

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    • Lou, I had no clue that you wrote so much, or that you write fanfiction, which of course means I have to ask you which fandom and do you have loads of fun doing it? I used to write stories about the characters in Nightmare Before Christmas.

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      • Oh yes, I’m always writing – I think I probably write most days, though a lot of what I write is basically for fun and I have no particular desire to publish it. Fandom-wise I’m all over the place depending on whatever I’ve been reading/watching – I started out as a teenager with Lord of the Rings, but I think I’ve written for about twenty fandoms since then! And I definitely have a tonne of fun doing it – that’s what fanfiction is for, after all 🙂

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  3. Great interview! Very impressed with the sweaters. I wish I could knit but I’ve never had the follow-through to learn. Also love those beautiful lilies in the first pic. The advice “don’t stop” writing is excellent. Once you stop it’s reeeeeally hard to get back going again. I know from experience – used to write poetry a lot (just for myself) and then somehow just stopped in my late 20s.

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    • Thank you! I’ve been knitting since I was 8, and it really helped me get through grad school. I can’t take credit for the lilies, though – the previous owner planted them.

      Writing is one of those things where it’s just so subjective – is it good, or isn’t it? And I think it’s too easy to let it slip away or get pushed aside because it’s not a “real” job, or because other things are a lot louder about clamoring for our attention. Although it’s also never too late to start again. Maybe you’ll write some more poetry?

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    • There is something about this post that is making my followers become confessors! I didn’t know so many of you wrote outside of blog life. I hope you give your poetry a try again, Laila. Sounds like you were a teen/college writer, and I must say those are the best years to write (at least they were for me) because I was so un-self-conscious as a writer.

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  4. Melanie, you have a gift for finding interesting people to interview. I’m afraid I have nothing to confess writer-wise (except letters to friends, and I don’t do those as often as I should!) and I am not a fan of Stephen King, horror or true crime so I’ll bug off and let the people who know what they’re talking about resume the stage.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow busy lady! Her work sounds very impressive, it energizes me to do more actually. I’m excited for her debut novel too, it sounds like she has so much varied knowledge that her fiction will be fascinating. Also-that knitted t-shirt? SO AWESOME

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  6. Thank you! I’m excited (and nervous!) for the novel, too. I totally combine my two loves of Stephen King and serial killers (and I can’t wait until I can be less vague about it). And isn’t the t-shirt awesome? I got to test it for the designer.

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    • I kept looking around, thinking, “What t-shirt?!” And then I realized that in my head that is a “blouse.” Or a sweater shirt? Or something for which I have no terminology. 🤣

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      • So according to one group I knit with, a sweater has at least 3/4 sleeves. It’s … a knit t-shirt? A … weird sort of in-between top? The only thing I’ve knit with needles that tiny? They’re like spaghetti noodles.

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  7. What a great interview AND range of knitwear. And the fact I read it right through when I am by no means keen on reading about serial killers or the works of Mr King shows that it must have been a good one!

    I have a funny relationship with academia because I managed to find myself doing some research and writing it up while not being attached to an academic institution! And I totally get what you mean about being too close to your own work because part of my job is academic editing, yet in my research book I managed to use two completely different referencing systems and n o t n o t i c e . This is why we have editors! Best of luck with the fiction, I would imagine not something I’ll be able to read (no problem with the existence of serial killer and horror books; can’t read ’em) but I’m sure they’ll be great.

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    • Hmmm. I’ve had more experience juggling multiple nonfiction projects than fiction, and the one fiction thing didn’t pan out, so I don’t have to worry about four right now. The entire process is different, though – with fiction, you have the whole thing written by the time someone says they want it and you’re on a deadline. With nonfiction, the contract is signed while there’s still a lot to write, so it’s a different sort of timeline where you have to finish it before it’s submitted for edits.

      Basically I’m in an active editing state with one project, waiting for proofs on another, and waiting for editorial comments on the third, so it’s easier to juggle when two of them are in the “waiting” stage so I don’t currently need to make time in my schedule for them each day.

      Liked by 1 person

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