Interview With an Author: Emily Ruth Verona

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Emily Ruth Verona and her debut novel, Midnight on Beacon Street
Author Emily Ruth Verona and her debut novel, Midnight on Beacon Street

Emily Ruth Verona received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from the State University of New York at Purchase. In 2014, she won the Pinch Literary Award in Fiction. She is a Bram Stoker Award nominee, a Jane Austen Short Story Award finalist, and a Luke Bitmead Bursary finalist. She lives in New Jersey with a very small dog. Her debut novel is Midnight on Beacon Street and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Midnight on Beacon Street?

I wanted to write a story that was told out of order over a limited period of time. The nonlinear aspect is something I've always loved, especially in television and film. I was watching a ton of How to Get Away with Murder when I started working on Beacon Street and just loved the way they switched back and forth at key moments.

Setting the book over the course of one night is something that's always fascinated me. In college, I wrote part of my thesis on films set almost in real-time (Rope, Interview, Tape). I wanted to write something that felt like that—confined to a specific day or hour.

Are Amy, Ben, Mira, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Some of Amy's wiring is definitely based on my own experiences growing up. I was a teenager in the 2000s, not the 1990s, but her anxiety and insecurity are both rooted in some of the things I felt at her age. I really wanted to explore that struggle with anxiety. For a long time, horror used mental health storylines to explain a hero's trauma or a villain's villainy. I wanted to look at mental health in a different way, one that reflected the ways in which I dealt with it growing up.

The children in this story aren't based on anyone in particular, but I do give credit to my nieces and nephew for being able to get the voices right for Ben and Mira. My siblings are over a decade older than me. My oldest niece was born when I was twelve,e and so I've spent a lot of time around little kids in my family.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

It's the opposite, actually, haha. I didn't remove much from this story. I added things. In fact, there is a whole character that wasn't even in the first few drafts. But I won't say who.

I struggled a lot with the story's flow for a long time, and so a lot of scenes were sort of bare bones, just to have them there as tentpoles so I could move on to get the rest of the structure figured out. Then, I went back and added more detail and nuance to those scenes. I've written novels before where I've removed entire chunks during the editing process, but this was not one of them.

Did you ever work as a babysitter? If so, what was the strangest/oddest thing you ever had to deal with? Did you incorporate any of your experiences into Midnight on Beacon Street?

In high school, I would babysit my brother's kids sometimes but they lived over an hour away, so it wasn't very often. After I graduated college, my sister needed someone to watch her kids three days a week—pick them up from school, give them a snack, help with homework, and generally keep them occupied until dinner time. I did that for a few years and loved every second of it. I've always loved being an aunt, and doing crafts with my nieces when they were little is something I will always treasure.

I actually started writing this book during those years that I was watching them. They were too young at the time for me to explain what a murder mystery was, so I just told them I was writing a book about a missing purse. The mystery was to figure out who took the purse. Years later, when they found out "missing purse" was a stand-in for "dead body," they were shocked, haha.

There are a lot of references to 80s and 90s horror films in Midnight on Beacon Street! Are you a fan of those films? Do you have a favorite horror/slasher film from the 80s/90s? A different period? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this one, and if that is the case, please don't. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)?

Absolutely! I've always loved horror movies—especially the classics. My older brother is a huge horror fan, too, and was always recommending titles I was probably too young to watch as a kid. There was this one summer during middle school when my best friend and I watched Scream and Final Destination and I just completely fell in love with the genre. Those are still two of my favorites to this day. My favorite from the 80s is probably Night of the Demons and my favorite from the 1970s is definitely Halloween. I’d also like to give a shoutout to Rope from 1948 and Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933. Speaking of which, a streaming service needs to pick up Mystery of the Wax Museum immediately so I can make you all watch it!

I don't think I have a least favorite horror movie. One of the great things about this genre is that the good movies and the bad movies are both entertaining. The good ones are spooky. The bad ones make you laugh. In my opinion, the worst thing a horror movie can be is boring. You don't want a horror film that doesn't make you feel anything.

Are you a fan of the Horror genre? What are some of your favorite novels, films, and/or series? Who are your favorite authors and/or filmmakers?

I’d say watching the television series Are You Afraid of the Dark? growing up had a huge impact on me. It primed me for more adult horror stories as I got older. I have a ton of horror favorites. Too many to list, I'm sure. Though that never stops me from trying. Some of those include…

Books: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sometimes We’re Cruel and Other Stories by J.A.W. McCarthy, Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones, She Who Rules the Dead by Maria Abrams, The Secret Skin by Wendy Webb, The Last House of Needless Street by Catriona Ward, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca, Lady of the House by Grace R. Reynolds, Blood Mountain by Brenda S. Tolian, I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland, and The Black Tree Atop the Hill by Karla Yvette.

Movies: Scream (1996), Us (2019), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), Final Destination (2000), Rope (1948), Halloween (1978), The Invitation (2015), Saw (2004), Night of the Demons (1988), The Menu (2022), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961), The Conjuring (2013), Night of the Living Dead (1968) Psycho (1960), Hell House (2015), and Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016).

Shows: Supernatural (2005-2020), Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), Marianne (2019), Archive 81 (2022).

What do you think it is about Horror that draws you, as an author and/or reader, to these types of stories?

I love eerie stories, and I love mysteries. Often, horror scratches both of these itches, especially with slashers where you're trying to figure out who the killer is. In Midnight on Beacon Street, Amy finds the controlled scare of horror comforting. I'm the same way. I enjoy being thrilled, on the edge of my seat. But I also have a lot of anxiety. So, it's nice to sit and be tense and know that you are in a safe environment where those feelings of unease won't become overwhelming.

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

You hear no a lot as a writer. And that's okay. It's important to remember you aren't just looking for any home for your work. You are looking for the right home—a place that will be passionate about your voice and champion your story. I started writing novels when I was seven years old. Now, I'm thirty-three. But I believe it was worth the wait. If I had to do it all over again, I would.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward and an advanced copy of Hollow Girls by Jessica Drake-Thomas. I'm loving them both!
Also, I always keep a little pocket edition of Emily Dickinson poems on my nightstand. It just sort of lives there.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Hmmmm…just five? Haha. In terms of authors who have influenced me the most as a storyteller, I'd say Frances Hodgson Burnett, J.R.R. Tolkien, Louisa May Alcott, Cormac McCarthy, Marisha Pessl, Gillian Flynn, and Jane Austen. I know that's seven. Sorry!

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember reading it over and over again growing up. I think there were a couple years where I always had it on me.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Not really. With siblings so much older than me growing up, the media I consumed was never really regulated. Especially books. I was probably too young to read Stephen King's Carrie when I did, but no one ever tried to stop me.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

I'm too honest! Haha. I'd feel guilty pretending. I've never faked reading anything unless you count four-year-old me looking at books and "reading" before I knew what all the words were. I will say that the book I missed out on reading as a child is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. I'm so embarrassed by that! I don't know how I missed it. As a kid, I watched a lot of spooky television/movies but read a lot of historical fiction/fantasy and I think it just sort of snuck by me. My boyfriend gave me his old copy recently, though, and I'm very excited to finally read it!

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I probably have multiple editions of Jane Austen books just because I love the different covers, haha. Specifically though, I remember being really drawn in by the covers for When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen, If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier, Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little, and the UK edition of The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. All four are fantastic books, too!

Is there a book that changed your life?

I feel like it’s a tie between Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Little Women. I think about them both all the time. They resonate in this bone-deep way. For Lord of the Rings, I've always felt this way and with Little Women it happens more and more with each reread. Lord of the Rings was given to me by my dad and Little Women was given to me by my mom. So, I think there's a lot of sentimental value there. They both just feel like home to me. I long to live in the Shire.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

See, this is a difficult question because I don't think the books I'd evangelize would appeal to everyone, haha. I do recommend Claire C. Holland's I Am Not Your Final Girl a lot. It's this absolutely phenomenal poetry collection inspired by the "final girls" of classic horror films. If you love horror, you have to read it. Even if you've never read much poetry before, I still think you should read it. If I taught a creative writing or film class, this would be on the syllabus. Horror poetry is a whole sub-genre of its own that I think more people should check out!

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

As a child, A Little Princess. It was just so magical to me. As an adult, I would like to go back in time and read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl before everyone spoiled the end for me. I absolutely Love Sharp Objects but still haven't gotten to Gone Girl because the spoilers hit me too fast.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I recently watched the television series Dead Loch on Amazon and found it to be absolutely delightful and immensely satisfying. And while I haven't finished reading Jessica Drake-Thomas's Hollow Girls yet, I can already tell it's going to be one of my favorite 2024 releases. It's just so good. I'm loving every word of it.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

There are too many variations of this answer that I'd consider perfect (so many people I'd want to spend it with!), so I'm going with my perfect solo, self-care day.

My perfect solo day would be me, my dog, and a pile of books. There would be pastries for breakfast. I'd write in the morning, take a nap, then do some reading. I'd go for a walk in a beautiful garden in the late afternoon and then spend the evening watching movies. Probably The Cat’s Meow or Little Women as those are two of my favorites. I'd make some popcorn and have a hard cider or a cocktail with it. My dog would guilt me into giving her a piece of popcorn. Then, I'd fall asleep at night listening to either a non-fiction audiobook or the My Favorite Murder podcast because I'm a weirdo like that.

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

I'm always waiting for someone to ask me what kind of character I'd be in a horror movie! And the answer is Randy in Scream. 150%. I am that person who has seen too many movies and knows all the tropes, and finds everything highly suspect. I have zero game and zero tact. I may or may not make it through the sequel. But I Know the Rules!

What are you working on now?

I'm currently revising a mystery/thriller novel set around a family's dark legacy. It's a project I've been working on for a while. I'm also in the process of trying to find a home for a weird little poetry collection I wrote this year. So, two very different projects, but I'm incredibly excited about both of them!

Book cover of Midnight on Beacon Street : a novel
Midnight on Beacon Street
Verona, Emily Ruth