West High alum April Snellings releases first book

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, Our Town Arts, West Knoxville

The horror bug bit April Snellings before she was a teenager, when she discovered Ray Bradbury.

“He was the first writer I devoured,” she says. She moved from him to Stephen King, and the rest was a lifelong obsession with all things spooky.

Snellings, a native Knoxvillian who attended West High, is the author of the just-published “Ghoulish: The Art of Gary Pullin” (1984 Publishing). The book covers the career of Gary Pullin, a huge figure in the world of horror art, best known for his illustrated poster takes on movie classics like “Children of the Corn” and “Night of the Living Dead.”

Earlier this summer Snellings was at Knoxville’s Fanboy Expo promoting the book. The full-color hardcover was released in a regular edition and two special editions. “Entertainment Weekly” gave the project a glowing recommendation months in advance, which Snellings says helped tremendously with sales. Reviews have been excellent.

It’s the first book for Snellings. As a writer for the now-defunct Knoxville Mercury, she won awards for her journalism and pop culture writing from the East Tennessee Society for Professional Journalists. As a writer and project leader for the critical horror magazine “Rue Morgue” for many years, she won several industry awards for her work. She has just signed another contract with 1984 Publishing for a book-length horror retrospective featuring multiple artists.

Her stint at “Rue Morgue” is where she met Pullin, who was then art director for the magazine. While at “Rue Morgue,” she got to tackle some favorite obsessions: author Shirley Jackson, the origin of ouija boards and more. She is especially interested in women and horror and wrote many well-received articles around that topic.

“It was a rare opportunity and a great thing,” Snellings of her experience at the magazine.

Her work in the genre led to her becoming a scriptwriter for “Tales from Beyond the Pale,” an audio play series now going into its fifth season. Former “Beauty and the Beast” actor Ron Perlman and Sean Young of “Blade Runner” are a couple of the actors who’ve lent their voices to the project.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Snellings says. “It’s so exciting to see something from page to performance.”

Snellings wanted to be a writer from the time she could read, and she ran off to New York City when she was 19 to do just that. She also lived and went to college in North Carolina, but it’s East Tennessee that has her heart. She and her wife live with a menagerie of cats and dogs in a 1950s house in Oak Ridge.

“It’s a supportive and welcoming community,” Snellings says. “We can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

She’s been devoting more time to fiction writing, and at the urging of her agent expects to be finished with a first draft of a novel very soon.

It’s a young adult work she calls “light horror,” with some of her favorite classically scary elements thrown in. She’s been reading a lot of young adult fiction and calls the genre “rich and complex.”

“I think young adult fiction is really important, especially now,” Snellings says. When everything is new for the young adult reader, it’s important to have writers who remind them that they aren’t alone, no matter what their situation.

Horror, too, is a safe place to explore emotions that are too big, Snellings says, like grief and fear, which is part of the genre’s eternal appeal.

“Horror offers an opportunity to explore the impact loss can have,” Snellings says.

Of course some people don’t ever understand why someone would seek out something that scares them to death.

“You think, ‘I’m so uncomfortable. Why do I like this?’” she says. “But that’s an interesting thing about horror fans – they like that feeling.”

Info: www.aprilsnellings.com

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