By Brennan LeFaro
Stephanie Evelyn published her debut novel, The Cult Called Freedom House, Sophia Rey Book One, on November 17th 2019.
Brennan LeFaro (BL): Stephanie, as a brand new author on the horror scene, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Stephanie Evelyn (SE): I was born and raised in San Jose, CA but I’ve experienced it to its fullest. My family and I are moving to Pennsylvania next year. I’ll be near a ton of Central Pennsylvanian horror authors like Bob Ford, Brian Keene, Wesley Southard, and more!
When I’m not doing my real job, writing, my day job is in marketing at a cyber security company. I have a degree in Film and Digital Media and I’ve been an acrylic painter since I was fifteen years old. I have two kids, a Scottish husband, a husky named Rocko, and a cockatiel named Lucy. I also practice Buddhism.
BL: Welcome in advance to the East Coast. Who or what are some of the influences that got you started writing?
SE: I have an affinity for dark stories, whether they be true or fiction. When I obsess over something or a subject, I am so far down in that rabbit hole that I don’t come back for months sometimes.
For example, I have seen almost every movie and documentary on The Manson Family and read Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter. Not to be mistaken as my agreement with anything The Manson Family has done, but that level of evil and darkness that can live inside human beings fascinates me because it’s so far from what I am.
I do read Stephen King books and those have been quite inspiring. William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson are major influences for me. It’s not just books either. I love film and one of my favorite directors is Stanley Kubrick. All of these mediums, all of these artists, everything they represent have influenced me. That’s naming the big guys.
I have to say that the horror and writing community on Twitter has been the most encouraging. I listen to the This is Horror podcast and Ink Heist. All the writers I have discovered through these podcasts have changed my life and my outlook on writing and what it means to be a writer.
BL: I can get behind a lot of those names. Can you share some your writing routines and habits?
SE: I wish I could be a positive model for this question but currently I don’t have a structured writing routine. All the writing podcasts I have heard and all the writers who are highly successful, they all say the same thing: set a time to write when you can’t be disturbed and commit. I didn’t quite do this for my novel The Cult Called Freedom House. Being a mother, a wife, and having a career in marketing, I would sometimes wake up early in the morning and write, I would write during my lunch time in a conference room, I’d write late at night, and I’d write on my weekends. That’s my routine for now.
BL: I hear you. Making time for family is huge. Sometimes you just have to get your writing in literally wherever and whenever it will fit. What factors went into your decision to self-publish?
SE: Everyone who knows me well knows that I am very impulsive. I have always been and sometimes it has got me into trouble, mainly when I was younger. But, being impulsive has its upsides. When I have an idea to do something, I won’t back out. I do it.
I wanted The Cult Called Freedom House to be available to the public as soon as it was done and edited. I didn’t want to wait and I didn’t want to go through the cycles of rejection that I hear about. And it’s not because I’m bothered by rejection. I know it’s part of being a writer and I have submitted short stories to different presses and I have been rejected every time. I wanted my novel to be available immediately so that I can write the next one.
BL: That’s admirable. Kind of a this baby is coming out whether the world is ready or not mentality. What kinds of things have you been doing to self-promote?
SE: The promoting has been so much fun. I’m in marketing so I guess that’s not a surprise that I enjoy the marketing piece of it all. I did something unique and also scary. I posted each chapter of my book as a blog post months ago. I would publish each chapter and post to my blog. The people who were reading it then loved the story and they reached out to me and talked to me about it. I realized then, that I wasn’t bad as a writer. These readers wanted more and that’s what counted. It kept me accountable to finish it.
Once I finished it as blog posts, I took it down and started to self edit. Back in May 2010 I only had 60 Twitter followers and now I am close to 600. I worked really hard on social media to connect with people in the horror and writing community. The key is not to make it all about yourself. I think that’s the way of a good life overall. I started buying and reading indie horror authors’ books and making YouTube video reviews on those books. In October, I did a call for short horror story submissions that I could read on my YT channel to help other authors gain visibility. It’s really about being a nice person online. I am grateful for the friends I have made like Laurel Hightower-Wells, Shane Douglas Keene, Bob Ford, and so many more. If you are kind and true, people will want to promote your stuff because they like you as a person. And you should be good at your craft, that too.
BL: You’ve mentioned it a couple times already. The online horror community really is an amazing niche. Were there any factors that made you want to incorporate cult horror into your debut novel?
SE: I have an obsession with cults and it’s not because I like what they do to others or even how they destroy themselves. I just like dark stories because it’s so far removed from my life. I am also a fan of all horror subgenres. I’ve heard other writers say, “write what you would want to read,” so that’s what I did.
BL: Your short story series, Escaping Hell, as well as A Cult Called Freedom House, both spend a lot of time on the theme of family. Was this a conscious decision?
SE: I love that you asked this because I didn’t even realize that. So, it was not conscious. What I can say is I come from a very large Hispanic family. Family has always been important and a big part of my life growing up and my life now. My aunts and uncles are like parents to me. I am close with all my cousins as well. I couldn’t be more of a daddy’s girl if I tried.
In The Cult Called Freedom House, Sophia’s dad is so my dad. There are characteristics that Sophia’s dad has that my dad doesn’t. My dad is not a cop and my dad is alive and well. But all the personality traits described are my dad. I have a great relationship with my mother and I’m an only child (best thing ever.)
Unfortunately, like everyone, I have experienced toxic family members that complicate our lives. I know people who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I have read many books on the subject. My Buddhism has helped in these areas.
BL: Can you share any future plans for Sophia Rey?
SE: I will only share that Book 2 will most likely be titled: Sophia Rey Book 2 The Coven of Retribution.
BL: That’s quite the tease. I can’t personally wait to find out more. Are you working on anything else at the moment? Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
SE: I am working on Book 2 in the Sophia Rey series. That is my main focus and my goal is to have it published in the early part of next year. I have short stories I work on and submit to presses but my priority is Book 2 in my series.
BL: Well, I thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and we all wish you the absolute best of luck with your fantastic debut novel. Where can people find you online?
SE: People can find me late at night roaming around graveyards, oh wait, you mean where can they connect with me. I’m on Twitter and Instagram under the name IamSterp. How did I get the nickname Sterp? My husband is hilarious and always gives me a hard time, and one day he was making fun of me and just called me Sterp. Friends starting calling me that too and it’s now become a term of endearment. I’m also on Facebook as SterpBriggs. My website is iamsterp.com.
My debut novel The Cult Called Freedom House is available on Amazon:
I received a copy of the e-book from the author for review consideration