People We Love (and think you should love, too)!

We here at GLAHW have met so many amazing and talented people out in the big wide world (you know, OFF the internets) and thought it was high-time we introduced them to you. Who knows? You may end up discovering a favorite new artist, photographer, writer, or all-around awesome human. This time around, Ken MacGregor will be talking to an author who is viscerally cool: Jessica McHugh.  http://www.jessicamchughbooks.com/

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GLAHW: How long have you been writing? Professionally?

JESSICA McHUGH: I’ve loved writing stories and poetry since I was a kid, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was around nineteen. At that time, I worked in a perfume kiosk at the mall, and since we didn’t do much business, I had lots of time to kill. I read a lot, of course, especially horror and fantasy. I can’t pinpoint what kicked me off—though I could probably blame months and months of reading Roald Dahl short story collections—but one day I decided to set aside other people’s stories and write my own. Most were terrible and fairly derivative, but once I started I couldn’t stop.

I spent the next five years writing novels, novellas, and short stories without considering their future. I didn’t write to be published. I didn’t want to be published at that time. I just wanted to create, to follow my passion until I fell so head over heels in love with writing I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. And it worked. On my worst days with a full-time job, when I was working in molecular diagnostics for 8+ hours and throwing myself into insane revisions as soon as I got home, I never contemplated giving up. Even now, when I’m dealing with too many projects, too little money, too many health woes and familial issues, and writing seems like the ultimate stress in my life, I love it too much to let it go.

In summation, Writing and I are clearly in an abusive relationship, and you’re all enablers.

 

GLAHW: What draws you to write horror?

JESSICA McHUGH: Fresh, gaping wounds provide so many opportunities for scenes chock full of sensory details. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to write about the sights, smells, and sounds of horror. It’s so much fun! I’d rather write a death scene than a sex scene any day—or combine them like I did with my forthcoming erotic horror novel, “The Train Derails in Boston.” That was an interesting experiment, for sure.

 

GLAHW: Do you ever write something and then sit back and think “what the hell?!?”? If so, can you give us an example?

JESSICA McHUGH: Many times. For instance, the book I mentioned above. While I was writing “The Train Derails in Boston” for NaNoWriMo 2012, it didn’t disgust me. I actually thought it was pretty sexy as far as horror erotica went. But once I sat down to revise it, I frequently found myself leaping from my computer chair to shake off tremors of revulsion. “What the hell” was pretty much my motto while editing that novel. It…I…well…you’ll see when the book comes out next year from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.

 

GLAHW: Do you outline or are you more of a “pantser”?

JESSICA McHUGH: I usually dive right in when it comes to short stories. But since I’ve been writing most of my novels during NaNoWriMo, outlining is a must. The first half, at least. I like having a road map for the beginning of the journey, but after I’ve written a few chapters and learned more about who my characters are, I tend to sit back and let them lead me to the end. But if I feel stuck in any piece I’ll typically step back and do some outlining or whiteboard sketching. But I was 100% pantser when I started out. It took me too long to realize an outline can be a writer’s best friend.

 

GLAHW: Tell us something interesting about you not related to your books.

JESSICA McHUGH: Since being a novelist isn’t the most lucrative profession in the world—shocking, I know—I have a weekend job leading food tours around downtown Frederick in Maryland. I lead up to twelve people around this gorgeous part of my hometown, ducking into different restaurants that provided dishes for the guests, and telling stories about the history and culture of Frederick. It’s a lot of fun, and it allows me to engage in non-fiction storytelling, which I don’t do much in my career. Plus, the more strangers I meet, the more stories I get to steal. 😉

 

GLAHW: What, if any, negative experiences (aside from rejections) have you had with publishers?

JESSICA McHUGH: I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing presses, but there have been the occasional bad apples that didn’t pay authors on time—if they paid at all—or were vanity presses in disguise. One such publisher promised they would rerelease my novel with a new cover (after two years with a god-awful one) and fresh edit (even though the editor was cold balls on toast and added more mistakes to the book). I fought back against the revisions, of course, which I believe was part of the reason the release was delayed. I tried contacting them to no avail. I received no payments, no updates, and was basically given the cold shoulder about my favorite story from the McHughniverse. It was a huge disappointment, especially since they broke our contract taking so long to re-publish the novel. But when I told them I wanted out to cut ties with them due to their unprofessionalism, they tried to charge me for breaking the contract. It was a big mess. It ended as amicably as possible, fortunately, but I know plenty of writers who haven’t been so lucky. Like writing novels isn’t hard enough.

 

GLAHW: If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would it be and why?

JESSICA McHUGH: Darla Decker from “The Darla Decker Diaries” Even though I put that poor teenager through the wringer, she experiences less torture than characters from my darker novels like “The Green Kangaroos” and “Rabbits in the Garden.” I’d gladly relive my first period over being a drug addict or constantly questioning my sanity. Plus, her friends are goofballs. I’d love spending a day with those wacky kids.

 

GLAHW:  If you had to give up writing, what’s your second career choice?

JESSICA McHUGH: I don’t even want to think about that. Even if I lost both hands and my tongue, I’d find a way to get my writing work done. And if it was impossible…I don’t know. I guess I’d have to settle for my backup career as Indiana fuckin’ Jones.

 

GLAHW: How often do you write? Do you have a daily word-count goal?

JESSICA McHUGH: I write and/or edit every day 1) because it’s my job, and 2) because I want, need, and love to write every day. When I look back at how much I’ve improved over time, it makes the most sense for me write as much as possible. I have my off days, of course, when I binge Netflix and don’t get much done. But even then, I’m thinking about plots, maybe doing research for future projects. I don’t have a daily word count unless I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, though. My motto is, “Don’t aim for a word count. Aim to make your words count.”

 

GLAHW: What’s your favorite food?

JESSICA McHUGH: I love green beans with almonds so much. No further explanation. They’re just so damn tasty.

 

GLAHW: You write in different fields: horror, bizarro, YA – do you need different external stimuli for each (music, etc.)?

JESSICA McHUGH: I usually write to instrumental music for all genres except my YA series. For that, I have a Darla Decker Inspirado playlist with current hits or 90s/2000s pop. That playlist is definitely responsible for my Miley Cyrus obsession. But when I’m writing to movies or TV shows, I tend to stay within the genre. I’ll watch Nip/Tuck or Carnivale while writing darker stories and Gilmore Girls or Boy Meets World while tackling my YA series.

 

GLAHW: Is there anything that scares you?

JESSICA McHUGH: Ha! Pretty much everything, yes. I love to write horror, but I usually can’t read or watch horror unless it’s a sunshiney day and I’m not alone. There are exceptions for my favorite horror films like Poltergeist and The Thing, but it’s extremely difficult to convince me to watch a new horror movie at night. And Nightmare on Elm Street? NO WAY. Not even during the day.

 

GLAHW: What do you read for pleasure? Favorite authors? Recommendations?

JESSICA McHUGH: I’m listening to a lot of audio books these days. I recently finished “The Virgin Suicides,” “The Girl on the Train,” and am currently listening to “Steelheart.” But I never get tired of Roald Dahl. I love his short story collections like “Skin” and “Over to You,” and I can read them over and over. Oh, and if you haven’t read his novel “My Uncle Oswald,” do it now. It’s hilarious.

 

GLAHW: As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

JESSICA McHUGH: As you can see, I’ve wanted to be a writer for quite a while.

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GLAHW: What’s your favorite way to unwind?

JESSICA McHUGH: I like to cuddle up with my Tylercat, drink a beer, have yummy dinner with my husband, and catch up on a favorite show/movie for a few hours…

…before I inevitably return to writing work.

 

GLAHW: What’s the best piece of non-writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

JESSICA McHUGH: Peter S. Beagle, author of “The Last Unicorn” and countless other rad stories, told me once that alcohol doesn’t have calories when consumed with friends outside of the home. I took this advice to heart—and to the belly.

 

 

 

 

 

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. Ken is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the former. He has also dabbled in TV, radio, movies and sketch comedy. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two “domesticated” predators.

Website:  http://ken-macgregor.com

Twitter: @kenmacgregor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KenMacGregorAuthor?ref=hl

HOW TO CORRUPT TODAY’S YOUTH – by Peggy Christie

That got your attention didn’t it? Weirdo.

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Technically, I’ll be talking about my and MontiLee’s experience with several classes of 10th graders and the art of writing, storytelling, and horror. I’m not saying we corrupted any of those young minds. But I can’t guarantee we DIDN’T either.

A little while ago, Jennifer Ward, an English teacher at Ionia High School, reached out to GLAHW with a request. Last semester, her students studied what she called The American Dream. And now in the second half of the year they were beginning to study The American Nightmare, including authors like Poe and Elliott, as well as the Gothic horror styles of writing in general.

Smart woman that she is, Jennifer thought inviting a couple of horror writers to school might bring insight to her students about the horror genre and the process of writing. We were more than happy to help out and so MontiLee Stormer and I made the 2-hour trek to IHS to impart our knowledge onto the eager young minds in several of her classes.

Writing and Editing

I was a bit nervous at first. Lord knows it’s been a hot minute since I was in high school, let alone 15, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But once that first hour began, I was pleasantly surprised to see how curious and engaging the students were. Sure, some were a bit shy about asking us direct questions but the classroom door covered in sticky notes helped out with that at first (more on that in a minute). By the time the third class was finished, I could hardly believe the day was over.

I’ve done workshops. I’ve done readings. Conventions are a regular scene for me and the group throughout the year. But I have to say I had so much fun being able to discuss writing and horror with a room full of teenagers. Their enthusiasm and delight and honest desire to actually learn something was a thing of beauty.

Thank you, Jennifer, for inviting us out to speak with your students. It was a wonderful day of exchanging ideas on writing and exploring the world of horror.

(For another perspective on the afternoon, head over to The Ionia Sentinel Standard and read Stan Sulewski’s article: Sentinel Standard)

Now…for that sticky note comment above. Many students from Ms. Ward’s classes wrote up a bunch of questions for us and posted them all over the classroom door. We were only able to answer a few so we thought why not make them available to the rest of GLAHW who couldn’t make it to Ionia and see how their answers might add to the students’ learning experiences.

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Ms. Ward will scan all the questions and email them over to me. Once I receive them, I’ll either post them here or on the forum. When you all know what you want to answer, you can email me and I will compile them all into one big file and send it over to Jennifer so she can share them with her students. Fun, right?

People We Love (and think you should love, too)!

We here at GLAHW have met so many amazing and talented people out in the big wide world (you know, OFF the internets) and thought it was high-time we introduced them to you. Who knows? You may end up discovering a favorite new artist, photographer, writer, or all-around awesome human. This time around, Ken MacGregor will be talking to an author who may well be King of the Zombies, Joe McKinney.  https://joemckinney.wordpress.com/

joe mckinney

 

GLAHW: How long have you been writing? Professionally?

JOE McKINNEY: I’ve been writing since I was about twelve or thirteen, but I didn’t get serious about publishing until I was in my mid-thirties, right about the time my first daughter was born.  I remember looking in on her in the nursery and thinking to myself that the world had suddenly gotten so much more complex.  Up to that point I’d been a pretty carefree cop with little responsibility outside of day job.  But suddenly I had all these new worries and anxieties rushing in at me.  So I took out a pen and started writing, hoping to get my head around my new role as a father.  I was a young policeman surrounded by worries, so I wrote a book about a young policeman surrounded by zombies.  That was back in 2006, before the zombie craze started.  The book, called Dead City, sold well, to date, just over 500,000 copies, and the publisher came back wanting more.  I haven’t looked back.

 

GLAHW: What draws you to write horror?

JOE McKINNEY: I’ve had a love affair with horror since I was a kid.  I really don’t know why.  But I do know that most of the time, when I tell a story, it just comes out that way.  I guess that’s the music that’s in me.  I wish I could explain it, but I don’t know if that’s possible.  The heart wants what it wants, and for me that’s the scary stuff.

 

GLAHW: Do the things you write ever make you laugh out loud or cringe? Both at once?

JOE McKINNEY: I have made myself laugh several times.  And yeah, cringe too.  I don’t know if I’ve had both at once, but that sounds like fun.  Sometimes scenes are so much fun to write you can’t help but laugh.  That’s one way to tell you’re getting it right.

 

GLAHW: Do you outline or are you more of a “pantser”?

JOE McKINNEY: I outline everything I write.  Usually, by the time I’m done with a novel, my outline will have grown to 70 to 90 pages and include everything from plot structure to character sketches and dry runs on important scenes.  Here’s the thing though.  Outlines are living documents.  If you get to a point in the story where you were convinced in the plotting stages that you were going to turn left, and you realize you have to turn right, go with it.  Just tweak the outline from that point.

 

GLAHW: Tell us something interesting about you not related to your books.

JOE McKINNEY: Well, okay.  Back in my street cop days I worked in the DWI Enforcement Division.  I had to go to all these special schools and over the years racked up a fairly impressive resume of topics upon which I am a court-recognized expert.  So, one day I was testifying in a DWI trial and the prosecutor starts rolling through my list of topics in which I am court recognized expert.  The defense attorney got annoyed and interrupted.  He told the judge:  “Look, it’s obvious the officer has been to a lot of schools.  We’re willing to allow that he’s an expert in intoxication.”  The judge agreed, and I was declared an expert in intoxication.  The jokes just write themselves, don’t they?

 

GLAHW: Has your fiction ever upset someone in your family? Your friends? If yes, how do you deal with that?

JOE McKINNEY: Oh, great question!  My wife gets mad at me sometimes because she’ll be reading one of my new releases and she’ll come to a scene and go, “Hey, I told you that!”  Luckily, she never stays mad at me.  Good thing for me too, because she’s my muse.

 

GLAHW: You bring a wealth of police-related experience to your books. Do you ever re-enact actual crimes in your fiction?

JOE McKINNEY: My department has very specific and rigid rules about writing for publication.  You are not allowed to write about cases you have been personally involved in or cases that have yet to be adjudicated.  Believe me, that makes things very difficult for me on Facebook, especially with people asking me to comment on the various stories that make it to the center stage of the current political landscape.  Some people hear that, and they scream censorship.  I don’t agree, though.  For me, there’s an uncrossable line of trust that you deal with when handling an investigation.  Imagine being a victim of a horrific rape.  You work up the courage necessary to report it, to subject yourself to the countless interviews and the shame and outrage and trauma of telling your story to a stranger.  You open yourself up, you lay it all on the line.  And after all of that, you read your thinly veiled horror in some hack’s story in a magazine somewhere.  That’s a line I will never cross, and I trust I will never violate.

 

GLAHW: If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would it be and why?

JOE McKINNEY: Jeff Stavers, from Apocalypse of the Dead.  He spends the first day of the zombie apocalypse on a fully loaded RV filled with A list porn stars.  That boy, for that day anyway, has got it good.

 

GLAHW:  If you had to give up writing, what’s your second career choice?

JOE McKINNEY: Chef.  I’m actually pretty darn good in the kitchen.

 

GLAHW: How often do you write? Do you have a daily word-count goal?

JOE McKINNEY: I write everyday.  My word goal is 1,500 words.  If I can do more, I do.  If I do less, I try to make it up to myself the next day.  Rare are the days I fail to make that goal.

 

GLAHW: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

JOE McKINNEY: Blue Bell Butter Pecan.  I like to sprinkle a little cinnamon on it, just to spice things up.

 

GLAHW: When you write, do you listen to music? If yes, what are some of your favorites?

JOE McKINNEY: I have to have the house completely silent when I write.  Music is too much of a distraction.  But, that said, I do love music.  All kinds of music.  I especially love old Country, though, like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings.  I’m also a big Pink Floyd fan.  And The Clash.  Oh, and ‘80s pop music.  Love the ‘80s!

 

GLAHW: Is there anything that scares you?

JOE McKINNEY: Snakes, yeah.  Hate snakes.  But surprisingly, and this happened only recently, but I’ve discovered that I am afraid of heights.  As a kid, I loved rollercoasters.  That slow climb up to the first big drop was always so exciting.  Then, a few years ago, I took my oldest daughter to Fiesta Texas for her first rollercoaster.  It was business as usual until we started that slow climb up to the top.  I looked over the side and the long way down scared the ever-loving crap out of me.

 

GLAHW: What do you read for pleasure? Favorite authors? Recommendations?

JOE McKINNEY: Wow, this is a hard one.  I’ve got so many favorites, and my answer to a question like this will probably change from day to day.  I love, love, love James Lee Burke, John D. MacDonald, T.E.D. Klein, Ted Chiang, Connie Willis, James Thurber, John Dos Passos and Tennessee Williams, among countless others.  But I will add that the one book I have read again and again, and in fact make a point to read every year, is Melville’s Moby Dick.  That is my all time favorite book!

 

GLAHW: What do you think makes a good story?

JOE McKINNEY: Characters you can relate to engaged in situations that make you squirm.  Character is key, though.  Without that, no amount of plot is going to save you.

 

GLAHW: What’s the best piece of non-writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

JOE McKINNEY: Non-writing advice?  Okay, that would have come from my dad as I was leaving for my first date.  My dad told me, “Hear this very clearly.  You are responsible for everything that happens to that girl from the moment she walks out her front door to the moment she walks back in it.  You will be held accountable.  Conduct yourself accordingly.”

 

 

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. Ken is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the former. He has also dabbled in TV, radio, movies and sketch comedy. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two “domesticated” predators.

Website:  http://ken-macgregor.com

Twitter: @kenmacgregor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KenMacGregorAuthor?ref=hl

People We Love (and think you should love, too)!

We here at GLAHW have met so many amazing and talented people out in the big wide world (you know, OFF the internets) and thought it was high-time we introduced them to you. Who knows? You may end up discovering a favorite new artist, photographer, writer, or all-around awesome human. This time around, Ken MacGregor will be talking to the prolific and talented Jonathan Maberry.  http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/

jonathan_maberry

GLAHW: How long have you been writing? Has it always been the kind of fiction you write now?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I sold my first professional piece –a magazine feature article—when I was an undergrad at Temple U. Way back in 1978. I went to school on a scholarship with every intention of being either Woodward or Bernstein. Funny thing is that probably the only thing I haven’t done as a writer is work as a reporter. While still a journalism student I got hooked on writing features for magazines. At first it was for martial arts magazines because I knew a lot about that, but then I branched out and wrote about music, travel, skydiving, relationships, and a ton of other things. In 1991 I wrote my first book, which was a textbook for Temple’s judo class. I went on to write a bunch of textbooks for my classes and those of friends who were good teachers but not writers. Then I expanded out and began doing nonfiction books for the mass market, including several martial arts books. I shifted gears and began writing about folklore –a lifelong passion—and while researching legends of vampires, werewolves and other critters I got an itch to try my hand at fiction. In 2003 I began writing my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES. I landed an agent at the end of 2004, she sold the book and its two sequels in early 2005 and it was published in 2006. The book went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. Until then I was on the fence about continuing in fiction or going back to nonfiction. That changed because the award was powerfully validating.

Now I’ve mostly left nonfiction behind except for the occasional article. I’m writing three to five novels per year, about twenty short stories and some comics every year. The change from nonfiction to fiction also switched me from part-time writer to full-time novelist.

 

GLAHW: What draws you to write horror?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Horror allows us to explore the complexities of our minds. We are fearful creatures by nature. We come into the world totally helpless, and much of our life is spent trying to understand life’s mysteries, protect against its threats, and build walls of personal security. Even a guy like me –six-four, built like Bigfoot, and an 8th degree black belt—feels fear of one kind or another every day. Anyone who says they are totally fearless is either lying or delusional.

So in fiction we get to take our fears and examine them, deconstruct them, play with them, understand them, and even have some fun with them. We get to pose ‘what if’ questions about threats large and small. And we can write that story all the way to a point of closure –and the real world doesn’t always allow that.

This is not to say that horror should always have a tidy ending or a happy resolution. Not at all, but in the process of writing the story we take ownership of it. We control the fearful elements and direct those forces elsewhere.

And, also, let’s face it, we all like to stretch our hand out to the fire or lean a little too close to the tiger’s cage. Fear is also a great stimulant. I didn’t start skydiving because I liked the geographical perspective. I was in it for the adrenaline rush. The thrill. The fear.

 

GLAHW: Is anyone in your family ever bothered by the things you write?

JONATHAN MABERRY: They probably are, but I’m kind of the black sheep of my clan. I don’t talk to most of them and can only imagine what they think about their weird brother.

 

GLAHW: Do you outline or are you more of a “pantser”?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m a structure guy. I was trained as a journalist and I spent the first twenty-five years of my career writing nonfiction articles, columns, reviews, how-to manuals, package copy, greeting cards, college textbooks and mass-market nonfiction books. All of that requires a deliberate and structured approach.

So, yeah, I outline. To me a novel is a mathematical formula. It’s cause and effect –this action plus that reaction results in such-and-such an outcome. Having an outline allows me to plan ahead, to foreshadow, to lay clues. It also allows me the freedom to write in a nonlinear fashion. If I know the whole story I’m free to jump around and write the chapters or scenes that most appeal to me and then fit them in.

That said, it’s irrational to believe that you’ve had all your best ideas on the day you sit down to write an outline. That’s why I allow for the organic growth of characters and plotlines. If something changes in the story while I’m writing, then I have to respect it because there is usually a logic to that new growth.

So, I view the plot as a trellis and the actual writing as the rose plant growing on that framework. I know that the story has to reach the end but I cannot possibly predict exactly how I will get there. And imposing too much rigid structure on the new growth is a good way of killing it.

 

GLAHW: Tell us something interesting about you not related to your books.

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m a lifelong martial arts practitioner. I started when I was six, taking lessons on the sly from a friend’s dad. My home life and neighborhood were very violent, and martial arts was probably what kept me alive. In my teens and early twenties I competed in full-contact martial arts, boxing, wrestling and fencing. I worked as a bodyguard in the entertainment industry, taught college classes on martial arts history and self-defense, and was the Expert Witness for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for murder cases involving martial arts. In 2004 I was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

 

GLAHW: You write a lot of tense, politically charged stuff. Has any of it been a cause for concern by our country’s security forces?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I am probably on watch lists just based on my Google search history. For example, ASSASSIN’S CODE –the fourth in the Joe Ledger series—was set in Iran. I did searches on Iran, its politics and culture, its nuclear program, street maps of Tehran, its police system and location of police stations, and so on. I also did research on nuclear weapons, smuggling, the placement of oil refineries, and so on. Tell me that doesn’t look suspicious from a distance.

But when I was doing research for PREDATOR ONE, my drone novel, I had to complete a background check by the FBI because I wanted to speak to some folks working on government drone projects. I spent some very uncomfortable hours in a room talking to unsmiling men wearing wires behind their ears. For a while it seemed that I was not going to able to convince them that I wanted this information for a novel. They are a very suspicious breed, those Feds. I guess they have to be, and I suppose we want them to be…but damn if I didn’t sweat gallons!

 

GLAHW: Are you superstitious at all?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve always been superstitious, despite all of the valid arguments against it. Sue me. I have to turn over a heads-down penny, I knock wood, I toss salt over my shoulder, and I own lucky charms. Actually, I always wear a pendant of the Hindu god Ganesha because he’s the patron god of writers and the remover of obstacles. Am I Hindu? No, but I play the odds.

 

GLAHW:  If you had to give up writing, what’s your second career choice?

JONATHAN MABERRY: There is no plan B. I did all of that already. Though, if pressed on the point, I suppose I’d teach. I’ve always loved to do that, and I still teach writing workshops around the country.

 

GLAHW: How often do you write? Do you have a daily word-count goal?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I am a working writer, which means I write every day. Not counting interviews, social media posts, and business-related writing, I wrote between three and four thousand words most days. When I’m at a convention or traveling that might drop down to two thousand per day. I seldom take a full day off.

 

GLAHW: Do you keep a journal?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I used to journal all the time, and kept a dream diary from age six through age thirty. Now I’m too busy writing to keep a diary. However I have tapped my old dream journals for ideas. In fact my new middle-grade series, THE NIGHTSIDERS, of which THE ORPHAN ARMY is the first book, is a direct collaboration with my eleven-year-old self. I took notes from dreams I had in fifth grade and expanded them into a series of adventure fantasies.

 

GLAHW: What’s your favorite thing to write – short stories, poetry, novels, scripts, etc.?

JONATHAN MABERRY: That answer will be different depending on what I’m writing at the moment. I’m fickle in my affections –I love whatever I’m currently working on.

Novels are my bread and butter and I love them because of how far down I can swim. With novels I have the chance to peel back the layers of characters and situations, and to delve into the story behind the story.

Short stories are different in that I like the faster pace. You have to get right to the heart of the tale and then it’s a race to the end. I usually write the last scene first, then back up and aim everything at that.

Comics are a dream job because I grew up as a comic book kid. I bought Fantastic Four #66 hot off the stands. It came out in 1967, when I was nine. Getting approached by Marvel to write for them was surreal, and I got to work with so many of my favorite characters, like Captain America, the Black Panther, the X-Men, Wolverine, Deadpool, Spider-Man, and more. And the horror comics I’ve done for Dark Horse (BAD BLOOD) and IDW (ROT & RUIN and V-WARS) have allowed me to bring my own characters to that genre. I’ve got some new stuff in the works, including a science fiction limited series and an urban fantasy project.

As for screenplays, I’m actually just starting to write my first one, so I’m still at the beginning of the learning curve. I’m writing a pilot for a potential series based on my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES.

 

GLAHW: Is there anything that scares you?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Horror writers write about what scares them. As much as I’m a science geek I’m also deeply concerned about the many easy ways there are to misuse technology. Not just accidents but deliberate misuse by bad guys –foreign and domestic. The era when security is defined by a powerful military you can put in the field is coming to an end, and it will be replaced by armies fighting cyber-warfare, social media wars, and with the use of drones, artificial intelligence, autonomous drive systems, directed-energy weapons, and robotics. These are great technologies that have many humanitarian benefits, but they’re also absurdly easy to use for the wrong reasons. I wrote PREDATOR ONE to explore some of that, and by the time the book hit the stores this past April the headlines were shouting about the exact kinds of problems I put in the book. So…sure, there are real threats out there. I’m not paranoid and certainly not a conspiracy theorist, but I do a lot of research with world-class scientists, military, law enforcement, and medical experts. They stuff they tell me scares the absolute crap out of me. I, in turn, use it to scare the crap out of my readers. And, maybe in the process I open a few eyes and open a few minds.

 

GLAHW: What do you read for pleasure? Favorite authors? Recommendations?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I read absolutely anything. I read fast and I read across genre lines. Some authors are on my absolute must-have list, including John Sandford, Michael Connelly, John Conolly, Robert McCammon, James Lee Burke, Christopher Golden, James A. Moore, Scott Sigler and Peter Clines. I also devour the Hellboy comics by Mike Mignola, Eric Powell’s Goon, and a few others.

 

GLAHW: What do you think makes a good story?

JONATHAN MABERRY: All good stories start with characters and their motivation. What do they want and why do they want it? For me, I think about what my bad guys want, why they want it and what they’re willing to do to get it. Then I put the good guys in their path. But I also have to understand why the good guys are, in fact, heroes or merely opponents. Everyone has an agenda, and no one is purely black or white. If a writer had clearly done his/her psychological homework, then I’m on board.

 

GLAHW: As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve always wanted to write. Even before I could read and write I was telling stories with toys. It’s been my most enduring defining characteristic. However, I’ve only been a full-time author for ten years. Like most writers I had to do other jobs along the way to pay the bills –and I’ve worked as a bodyguard, bouncer, martial arts instructor, salesman, graphic artist, telemarketer and college teacher.

 

GLAHW: What are you reading right now?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m in a retro mood and have been reading some old pulps, including my all-time favorite, DOC SAVAGE, plus some SHADOW, G8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, THE SPIDER and THE AVENGER. And I’ve been reading the pulp thrillers, westerns and science fiction written by my wife’s late grandfather, Oscar J. Friend. I’m toying with the idea of taking some his stories and updating them for modern audiences. A kind of posthumous collaboration.

 

GLAHW: What’s your favorite way to unwind?

JONATHAN MABERRY: My wife, Sara Jo, and I moved to southern California two years ago and we have a condo on the ocean. All I need to do to relax is go out on the balcony, open a cold bottle of beer, and watch the whales and dolphins. Maybe put some Joe Pass jazz guitar on the iPod, or a mix of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Steely Dan. I can be in a nice zone very quickly these days.

 

GLAHW: What’s the best piece of non-writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

JONATHAN MABERRY: When I was a kid, Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury mentored me for nearly three years. Bradbury drummed into my head that a writer needs to be one of the good guys –not a selfish jerk but someone willing to help his fellow writers. That really resonated with me, then and now. But it was Matheson who told me that in order to become successful a writer needed to understand the difference between writing and publishing. Writing, he told me, was an art –it was an intimate conversation between author and reader. Publishing, on the other hand, was a business whose sole concern was to sell copies of art. They are not the same thing and it is important for a writer to understand what each is, what it requires, how it works….and then to become very good at both.

 

 

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. Ken is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the former. He has also dabbled in TV, radio, movies and sketch comedy. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two “domesticated” predators.

Website:  http://ken-macgregor.com

Twitter: @kenmacgregor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KenMacGregorAuthor?ref=hl

Ken MacGregor’s Rules of Engagement for Fiction

Okay. So “rules of engagement” may not be wholly accurate, but it sounds cool, doesn’t it? Really what this is, is a list, in no particular order, of things I find useful when trying to engage in writing. So, yeah. It works. Kinda. Just keep reading.

 

  1. If you’re not careful, a metaphor will become an off-balance washing machine, clunking across your page. Similarly, a badly rendered simile can be like a kiss from Granny where she slips you the tongue. If you’re not clear on the difference between the two, please re-read those last sentences. Yup. I did that. Both have their places in fiction. Both can enrich your story. But, tread lightly when using either. Use a gentle touch. Okay. I’ll stop.
  2. Don’t use exclamation points! Seriously! Don’t! Do you see why?!? They! Are! Jarring! As! Hell! (Really, though. Don’t. Like, ever.)
  3. “Let’s talk about dialog for a minute.”
    “Why?”
    He sighed.
    “It’s important, all right?”
    She tapped her foot twice.
    “Fine.”
    Okay. A lot of people tell you what you can and cannot put into dialog. Some say you should only ever use “said” and for the most part, I agree. “Said” is invisible. We don’t notice it. The dialog should also convey what the characters want and how they feel. Look at the example above. I named no one, yet it is clear that the people talking have a relationship. He wants to discuss dialog and she clearly does not. I don’t come out and say that, however. I use actions: he sighs; she taps her foot. She uses one word when she speaks. She seems kind of pissed, huh? But, I didn’t have to tell you that, right? I also didn’t use any dialog tags, not even “said.” You don’t have to.
    I’ll give you an example of one thing not to do. Now, I love the Harry Potter books, but several times, Hermione has told someone something “warningly.” (eg. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Hermione said warningly.) Whenever I come across this, I gnash my teeth and want to throw the book through the wall. Don’t do this. We know it’s a warning. Don’t assume your readers are morons. Give them some credit. After all, we’re readers, too, right? Right? If not, walk away from this and go get a book. Now. If you don’t read, you have no business writing.
    Dialog should also have a point. It needs to move the story along, or provide exposition, or create tension. If your characters are talking about nothing just to hear themselves talk, cut it. It’s useless. And your reader’s eyes are glazing over and they’re thinking about what to make for dinner.
  4. Jump right in. Start the story in the middle. This is especially true for short fiction, but applies to novels, too. Find that point where you, the writer, start to get excited about the story and cut as much out before that as you can. How many times have you seen great opening lines quoted? Don’t you want to see your own stuff on that list someday? I sure do. That first line is your way to get the reader’s attention. And, bonus: if you’re trying to sell your fiction, that first line is the first (and sometimes only) thing an editor is going to see. Some editors have admitted that if the first line doesn’t grab them, they’ll stop reading right there. Having had some of my own stuff rejected in an hour, I believe it.
  5. Keep it simple. I read a lot of fiction. I read nonfiction, too, mostly about writing, but some other stuff, too. But, I write fiction, so I read a ton of it. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s great. A lot of it is mediocre and some of it’s terrible. I tend to write dark stuff mixed with humor. So, I end up selling my stories to horror-themed publications more than anything else. I always read the other writers with whom I share pages. For one thing, I want to know who I’m standing next to. I’ve made some good friends this way. One of them I teamed up with to write (and sell) a short story. After that, we co-wrote (and sold) a novel and we’re writing the sequel. So, yeah. Good things can come from reading other people’s stuff.
    But, I digress. The original point I was trying to make is to keep it simple, keep it readable. You don’t want your reader slogging through heavy language, pausing to look words up in the dictionary every sentence. I’ve seen a trend among certain horror writers, particularly newer ones, to try to emulate H.P. Lovecraft or Poe. We live in the 21st century. Thanks to television and now the Internet, we have seven-second attention spans. You’re already bored by this paragraph, admit it. Use language you use in real life. Use a voice that engages people. Make it interesting without being pompous. You’re not Lovecraft. You’re you. Be you, only, you know, better.
  6. Have fun with it. If you’re enjoying what you’re writing, odds are pretty good other people will, too. If you feel like writing is a ten mile hike knee deep in human feces, maybe you’re in the wrong game. If you’re writing something creepy, it should make you shudder a little. If you’re writing sex, you should be aroused. If you’re not, you ain’t doing it right. If you’re writing creepy and sexy at the same time, you should feel really dirty and gross. It’s a weird, but kind of awesome feeling. Believe me. I feel kind of dirty just thinking about it. *Shudders* *Grins*
  7. Write outside your comfort zone. If you’re a mystery writer, do a western; if you write romance, write horror (when I want to be horrified, I read romance. Kidding. Not really kidding.) Science Fiction? Write mainstream. Also, write poetry. I hate writing poetry (unless it starts with “There once was a young man from…”), but it’s a good idea. It forces you to use the fewest possible words to get across your ideas. It encourages use of imagery and metaphor (you remember, the clunky washing machine?). These are good exercises for your writer brain and will likely carry over into your fiction. But, like I said, I hate poetry (I like some poetry, but that’s reading. I don’t write it unless I have no choice), so I understand if the idea makes you want to puke. Do it anyway. Suck it up. It’s good for you.
    And, yeah. I’ll do it, too. Fine. Whatever. Get off my back.
  8. Assume something is wrong. After you write that first draft, there are going to be errors. And, you won’t be able to see them. Walk away for a couple days. Longer if it’s a big piece like a novella, even longer for novels. When you come back, you’ll see some mistakes. Great. Fix them. Go over it one more time. Fix the new ones you caught. Read it out loud. You’ll find even more things that suddenly sound terrible, even though they looked fine on paper. Fix those. (Note: I went back and reread this after it posted and fixed three errors I had missed.)
    Okay. Now that it’s in as good of shape as you can make it, find someone else to read it. This can be a family member or a friend. I strongly recommend another writer. They’ll see things most readers won’t. A good thing to do is to find writers who will do this (it’s called “beta reading” because you’ve already done the alpha reading yourself) in exchange for you reading their stuff. I do this all the time. Bonus: you get to read stuff before anyone else. Cool, huh?
    So, once you get feedback from another set of eyes, and you’ve fixed any problems they’ve found, then you can submit it to an editor. They will either accept it or, far more commonly, reject it. Either is fine. Rejections help keep us humble. I am very humble. Not really, but I’ve had over a hundred chances to test that. But, before I started submitting fiction, I was an actor. Before that, I was a teenager trying to get a date. Rejection and I go way back.

All right. That’s it. For now anyway. I sat down to jot down a few ideas and I rambled on for over 1500 words. Go. Write. Enjoy yourself. And, please don’t be afraid to ask other writers for advice. When I started out, I got so much help. I couldn’t believe it. It’s a good community of mostly friendly people. We are riddled with doubt; we all wonder if people are going to like our work; we all strive to be better than we are, to constantly improve. And, that’s key. Your next work should always be better than your last. Challenge yourself. Stand out from the crowd. Don’t so much write what you know, as write what you love. Put your passion into it. Put your heart in the words. Bleed on the page. Make hot, ugly, sweaty love to your characters. Write.