Interview: Funhaus' Elyse Willems Talks About Her First Novel

Elyse Willems has been having a pretty awesome online career, being a member of Funhaus, and contributing to multiple Rooster Teeth projects. But recently she took up a new endeavor as a writer, penning a brand new novel called A Night In Halloween House. The book harkens back to an era when you'd buy an interesting title through the book fair at school and be taken on a cool journey you didn't expect. This one centered around a group of kids who decide to explore a ramshackle house that people claim may be haunted. Can they survive a night in this house? Well, you'll have to get the book to find out. But for now, we had a chance to chat with Willems about her time making the book and thoughts on self-publishing it.

Elyse Willems

Photo Credit: Jon Finger
Photo Credit: Jon Finger

BC: How are you doing and how have you been holding up this year?

EW: 2020, am-I-right? I've had my share of ups and downs. That being said, I haven't faced some of the really earth-shattering hardships many have endured, so I'm very grateful. But as far as I'm concerned, the best chance 2020 has for redemption is to someday be a good vintage for wine.

What's it been like working on Funhaus and Rooster Teeth content from home?

The first week of quarantine was pretty surreal; grabbing armfuls of gear and equipment from our office, stuffing it frantically into mid-size sedans, and hoping it would fit in our small apartments. This was followed by several months of really struggling with tech issues and finding a suitable at-home recording set-up. Now we've entered the stasis of "Zoom fatigue." Understandably, watching a grid of people hanging out remotely has lost some of its initial charm, but our team has worked hard to keep things feeling fresh. Still, we all miss being in a studio together and the energy and creativity that comes with it.

What was the initial thing that made you want to write a book?

I love 'em! I was a voracious little reader as a kid and have always wanted to write professionally. I think my mom still has a journal entry I made circa age six in which I listed my future career as "author." Not as exciting as say, astronaut, but like I said, I was a massive bookworm, a.ka. nerd. (Side note: my mom's very proud.) When I was around the same age, my parents drove me for several hours to meet Babysitter's Club author Ann M. Martin. Not a shy kid in any sense, but I absolutely clammed up and was too starstruck to speak. So yup, this was a long time coming.

Did you have the idea for it right away or is this something that had been cooking for a while in your mind until you were ready to put it together?

The idea marinated for a little bit, sparking around six years ago when my husband and I moved to a new neighborhood. As a pet owner, you quickly learn the lay of the land by walking your dog, and in my walks, I came upon this ramshackle old house. Very unusual for this well-kept neighborhood in particular. A creepy, deserted place, not a soul seen entering or exiting, day or night. Overgrown trees and grass, with a single light flickering on the porch. Not "L.A." in the slightest. It struck me as the type of house that I would've been terrified to walk past as a kid; the kind my imagination would've run wild with. And I just went from there.

You've had writing experience before creating content for Arizona Circle and other content. Do you feel like that prepared you for this or were you out of your element when you started?

Unlike Arizona Circle (our sketch comedy series), this book was a solo effort, which has its benefits and drawbacks. When you're writing with a team, you have a support system, but you're also very much beholden to the approval of the group. In this case, my story decisions were my own, which is both an empowering and daunting feeling.

What was it like for you during the actual writing process and essentially creating a book of your own works for the first time?

The actual writing process was fairly broken, piecemeal, and drawn out. Sometimes I would go stretches of months without working on Halloween House, choosing to work on different projects instead. My work with Rooster Teeth can also bleed into evenings and weekends, especially the more ambitious projects I've worked on, monopolizing the 'ol creative juices. So it was very much a background endeavor. Which in a way put less pressure on me; I wasn't worried about hitting tight deadlines. It did however require quite a bit of self-motivation which is REALLY HARD in the golden age of streaming TV! Frasier isn't going to re-watch itself (though it's so smart I'm sure it could find a way).

The cover of A Night In Halloween House, courtesy of Elyse Willems.
The cover of A Night In Halloween House, courtesy of Elyse Willems.

The book comes off as having an older Scholastic adventure novel kind of feeling. Was that intentional or was it organic as you fleshed out the story?

That was absolutely intentional! And I'm so glad it comes across. As the adage goes, "write what you know" and this was very much the genre I grew up with and have tremendous nostalgia for (I also love Halloween with a giddy passion). Writing this book felt oddly comforting at times, for this reason. And it helps that the cover art also strongly evokes this, which is all thanks to the very talented Adam McQuaig.

What were the initial thoughts from friends and editors when you were finishing it up?

Surprise, mostly! I'm fairly private about my personal work, and I don't typically like to put the horse before the cart and talk things up until I have a very tangible, very real product. I'm also not great in general at promoting myself, which is why I'm thankful to have an amazing husband and wonderful friends and family who do that for me.

Something that kinda surprised me is that you decided to self-publish. What made you choose to do it on your own?

Quarantine afforded me the focus and time to really accelerate my work. In a year with very few prospects, wherein each day/week/month have felt indistinguishable, Halloween became a sort of finish line. With that in sight, I researched the advantages of self-publishing versus the traditional system, and vice versa. Ultimately I think there's a part of me that's so used to being a modern content creator who engages with and sees through every step of the process, so it felt very natural to do. Which isn't to say that I'm opposed to getting published in the future! I think that would be an incredible accomplishment. Though given how horrible this year has been, I'm glad I was able to spread a small sliver of positivity.

Now that it's out there, what do you hope readers take away from the book?

I've heard from a few '90s kids who are now parents themselves, and they've told me how the book's been a bonding experience for them and their children. Which is the ultimate praise, and the best possible outcome.

Looking ahead, aside from the obvious with the day job, what are your plans from here?

To keep writing and telling stories, even if it takes another six years to publish one. That, and play Cyberpunk 2077.

Is there anything else you'd like to promote or plug?

Have your pets spayed or neutered!

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About Gavin Sheehan

Gavin is the current Games Editor for Bleeding Cool. He has been a lifelong geek who can chat with you about comics, television, video games, and even pro wrestling. He can also teach you how to play Star Trek chess, be your Mercy on Overwatch, recommend random cool music, and goes rogue in D&D. He also enjoys hundreds of other geeky things that can't be covered in a single paragraph. Follow @TheGavinSheehan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vero, for random pictures and musings.
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