Sean Slagle was born in Somerset, Kentucky. The family moved around Kentucky a few times during Slagle’s childhood due to his father’s career as a minister. They lived in Monticello, Albany, Harrodsburg, and Science Hill. After graduating from Somerset High School, Slagle went to Campbellsville College for two years and studied journalism and theater. He transferred to Somerset Community College for one semester, where he studied broadcasting and had a radio show on the campus station.
In 1990 he followed his parents to Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University East with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He continued to practice his writing while working various and, at time, multiple jobs, selling electronics, waiting tables, and working in a factory. He then went to graduate school at Ball State University and earned a Master of Arts in Secondary Education. While a teacher, he has served as a basketball coach, softball coach, track coach, and drama director.
All along his journey, Slagle continued to write. He published numerous pieces in magazines and webzines. Some of his most notable works include “A Light in the Darkness,” “Enticed,” and “The Inheritance.” He also wrote and produced various drama productions, including Sleepy Hollow High School, Do You Believe in Miracles, and A Socialite Christmas.
R.G. Andrew: First, let me say thank you for sitting down with me for a few minutes to talk about your book.
Sean Slagle: The pleasure is all mine.
Andrew: Publishing your first book must be exciting.
Slagle: I’m excited and nervous at the same time. Just because I love the book, doesn’t mean others will. A writer just doesn’t know how a piece will be received.
Andrew: Have you always been a writer?
Slagle: In some ways. To put it more accurately, I’ve always been a storyteller or story creator. So, even though I didn’t always write down the stories, I lived them out with my friends, or my action figures, or even by myself. I’ve always had a very creative imagination. Except for writing the occasional play for my friends and me to perform, I really didn’t start writing stories until college.
Andrew: What was the difference there?
Slagle: I finally had to decide what I wanted to be. All I ever wanted to do was write and act. (That was only if the professional baseball career or rock star career didn’t work out.) So, I went to college and graduated with a bachelor of arts in English from Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. I studied under a great writing teacher – T. J. Rivard. He taught me the art of storytelling. He endured all of those stories set in Kentucky.
Andrew: Why are your stories set in Kentucky?
Slagle: Not all of my stories take place there, but most of them do. It’s a place close to my heart. I loved growing up there. I was always fascinated by the people, the places, the nature, and its history. Even now I read Kentucky history books for fun. Part of a shelf in my study is dedicated to books about Daniel Boone. I even wrote a twenty-eight page paper in graduate school about why Daniel Boone was a key figure in the manifest destiny movement. Maybe I’ll post that on my blog sometime.
Andrew: Tell me about A Dirge for the Malice.
Slagle: Believe it or not, this is the hardest thing for me to answer, because it’s about so many things. I guess I’m too close to it. But if I step back from it and look at the overall picture, here is what the book is about: a group of young adults invoke a witch’s curse and have to deal with the consequences of their actions while trying to get the curse reversed.
Andrew: That doesn’t sound so hard to answer.
Slagle: Well, that is so basic. There are so many other aspects to the book. It’s about friendship, love, community, and family. It’s about death and dealing with the dark powers that surround us.
Andrew: Where did your idea for the book come from?
Slagle: A lot of different places. I didn’t really set out to write a certain story. For a writer, everything is grist for the mill. Then little pieces of this and little pieces of that come out when we write. This story started as a nonfiction exercise. I just wanted to capture what Science Hill was like when I was growing up. So I started with Halloween. Then the characters took over. I took my time writing, and I let the characters take over the story. Jeff Young is Jeff Young. It’s not me. I didn’t do those things. As a writer, I had to get out of the way and let him tell his story. I couldn’t let control issues get in the way. There were directions that I thought the story was going, but then I be surprised when it turned a different way.
Andrew: You really had no idea?
Slagle: None. There were even elements of foreshadowing that I didn’t even know were foreshadowing when I wrote them. The creative process is a mysterious thing, and I was lucky enough to let the process reach a conclusion. To get back to your question, when the first draft was completed, I saw elements from many different places. The crazy pranks that happened in Science Hill are legendary, so a lot of those are based on stories I heard. And the school really did have a costume parade. It was a very big deal. We explored many different caves out in the hills. And there was a lady in Science Hill that everyone believed was a witch.
Andrew: So, there really was a Witch of Clifty Creek?
Slagle: We all believed she was a witch. The people in town really did avoid her. When I got older, I got to know her through my dad. She showed up at our church needing help and he helped her. She was actually a very nice lady. She was different, wore weird clothes, and talked with a thick German accent. Her husband died sometime earlier, so she lived out in the hills by herself. And she wasn’t a witch, I might add.
Andrew: Are the other characters based on real people?
Slagle: They are more personas of people I knew growing up. There wasn’t one specific person in my life who became Jeff or Denver or Junior. They are just normal, everyday guys. I think most people can say they knew guys like them from high school or from around town.
Andrew: Be honest – is the Jeff character you?
Slagle: (laughs) No. There is a difference between a first-person narrator and an author. Jeff is a character in the book. He is his own person. He is not me, the author. I often remind my students of this when studying Edgar Allan Poe. Everyone thinks Poe is the person in the story, but the narrator is actually a character that is tripping on opium or living in an insane asylum or confessing to a murder.
Andrew: Let’s switch gears here to the publication of the book. Why did you choose the self-publishing route? Was this book rejected by agents and publishers?
Slagle: Let me answer the second question first. I never submitted the story to an agent or publisher. I chose self-publishing for mainly two reasons. One, I’m relatively an unknown in the market place. Sure, I’ve had other pieces published, but they were small pieces. So, instead of trying to convince a publisher that I can be successful in the marketplace, why not just prove it? Two, I didn’t feel the book had exactly what most publishers are looking for. I didn’t want to “fluff up” the story just to make it fit an acceptable publication length. The story is perfect just as it is.
Andrew: Anything else you’d like the public to know before we go?
Slagle: The Dirge for the Malice is a fun book to read. Let yourself get lost for a few hours in the antics of some 18 to 20 year olds on Halloween, and then go with them as they try to stop this curse. I think this story will appeal to both males and females, even if most of the book is about guys just being guys and the stupid stuff we do when we’re together.