Meghan: Hi, Jessica. I’ve not had the pleasure of interviewing you before, so welcome, welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jessica McHugh: I’m an author of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and pretty much any other speculative genre that wriggles into my mind, especially if it’s a giant mash-up. While I primarily consider myself a novelist, I also write lots of short fiction, poetry, and am an internationally produced playwright. I love my amazing husband, my super cool cats, and my hometown in Maryland where I work as a tour guide for food and happy hour tours.
Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?
- My maiden name means “beautiful” but is also a variety of tuna.
- I told Jakob Dylan from the Wallflowers to his face that I used to jerk off to a poster of his face.
- My parents changed my middle name from Lynn to Brianne after I was baptized the same day as another Jessica Lynn.
- I worked as a stripper in West Virginia for 7 months.
- If you’ve read my book Pins, you already know the previous fact, so here’s a new thing. After my 2nd night at the club, my boyfriend at the time had to take me to urgent care because I’d thrown and slammed and twisted my body in so many ways I could barely move the next day.
Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?
Jessica McHugh: Fox in Socks. I remember telling my oldest brother I thought the Fox was mean.
Meghan: What are you reading now?
Jessica McHugh: Devil’s Creek by Todd Keisling. It’s actually great culty inspirado for my work-in-progress.
Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?
Jessica McHugh: I honestly can’t think of one. I think most people know I have eclectic reading habits.
Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?
Jessica McHugh: I’ve always been a bookworm and loved making up stories/ playing pretend, but in 4th grade when a teacher introduced short stories and the writing process, I fell in love with the revelation that the authors of my favorite books were once just kids like me. I also discovered my love of crafting horror during that time. I wrote my first scary story, and though a note from my teacher suggested I “avoid gory topics,” I clearly ignored that advice. I did turn more toward poetry and scriptwriting in high school, but I dove back into writing short stories and novels in a huge way when I was 19.
Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?
Jessica McHugh: I moved a few months ago after 11 years in the same place so I’m still sussing out my favorite writing spot. It’s also a weird transition time for me cuz I’m trying to type more than handwrite as I’ve been doing for years, so I’m all over the place right now. I do enjoy typing in our little dining nook, though, and I’m lucky to have a bunch of amazing bars in walking distance where I can get my people-watching inspirado. I do enjoy writing in public quite a bit.
Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
Jessica McHugh: I wouldn’t call it quirky, per se, but it seems a lot of my inky cohorts don’t do this, soooo… I do an auditory revision as my last step before submission. In other words, I have my computer read my story aloud so I can hear how the dialogue flows and catch any issues my eyes missed. It’s extremely helpful and probably the least stressful part of the writing process, as I can relax with a glass of wine and jump in here and there to fix things.
Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Jessica McHugh: Everything about writing has been challenging since my cat Tyler died almost four years ago. He was an integral part of my writing life, and it’s been a struggle finding my way back to the comfort and joy I felt before. At one point last year I even considered leaving the writing world entirely. Obviously I didn’t do that. Couldn’t, really, because I love story creation too much. So I’m working my ass off–not to regain what I lost, but to appreciate the life I had before and nurture the one I’m cultivating for the future.
Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?
Jessica McHugh: I believe my novel The Green Kangaroos is the best book I’ve written, and it was the funnest first draft experience, so it definitely gives me a lot of satisfaction. Because it had such personal content dealing with addiction, it was therapeutic to get out those feelings. The bizarro elements, however, disconnected me enough from the traumatic truth of the tale to have a lot of fun.
Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
Jessica McHugh: I feel like every new book I read is an inspiration, especially those from small press authors like me. I read slowly these days because of my hectic deadline schedule, so I value the time I get to spend in my worlds of my inky cohorts. They make me a better writer. I think the biggest influences on my style are Anne Rice and Bret Easton Ellis. I enjoy writing honest and raw prose like Ellis, but I also love going crazy on description, especially when it comes to world building and gory bits, which Rice excels at without going too purple with the prose.
Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?
Jessica McHugh: For me, it’s all about the characters. A unique plot and rad setting helps for sure, but if the characters aren’t compelling or making realistic decisions according to their personalities, I won’t care about all the radtacularity around them.
Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
Jessica McHugh: Flaws. Most real people are carrying around a lot of damage, whether caused by outside trauma or self-inflicted. If a character can coast through story conflicts as if the world was built just for them, I’m out. I especially love “unlikable” characters, which I feel are pretty much just… humans… so I tend to write a lot of those folks.
Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
Jessica McHugh: The main character of my young adult series, Darla Decker, is a version of me with bigger balls. She takes more risks and talks about her feelings with more ease, but I do think I’ve improved on both those counts, partly because I learned a lot about myself while writing her character over five books.
Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?
Jessica McHugh: You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but… come on… some covers are so bad you can’t help but think the story will follow suit. And unfortunately that’s a risk of indie and small press. Not to say the rash of covers with headless regency females released by big presses are much better at enticing me. As for my own, I wish I was better at envisioning what they should be. I usually just throw out some ideas and hope the cover artist/ publisher can make sense of it.
Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?
Jessica McHugh: Much of what I learned and took joy in during my first decade plus of writing was unfortunately rewritten during my grief process over my cat. No embellishment, everything about my writing life changed. Four years later, I’m still far from where I was when it comes to productivity. I used to think nothing could ever derail my drive to write, but… well, here we are. So I guess I’m still learning who I am, every day, with every word I write, without him.
Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?
Jessica McHugh: About a decade before Tyler’s death, I wrote a death scene for a character based off him in my sword and sorcery series, The Tales of Dominhydor. Actually, since the first book exists in the mind of the main character (this isn’t a spoiler; it’s in the first line of the novel) and the second book covers the reality of what’s happening in Dominhydor, I wrote that scene twice, each filled with lost love and overwhelming sorrow I had no idea would cling to me years later.
Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
Jessica McHugh: The fact that I won’t stick to only this genre. Even if it’s undoubtedly a horror book, there will also be elements of suspense, comedy, action, romance, fantasy, science-fiction, and maybe some nods to bizarro. Real life is a genre goulash, and I want my stories to feel like that too. Even if it makes the book seem a bit bonkers, I prefer bonkers over boring.
Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?
Jessica McHugh: I think it’s really important. I just happen to be terrible at it. Oh titles… one of my least favorite parts if I don’t have one at the get-go. I think the title is extremely important, so I definitely stress over it. I’ve chosen titles in different ways, from posting options online and having my fans pick (like with Rabbits in the Garden) or putting keywords into a form and generating random options (like with “Camelot Lost”). I also once posted that I wanted to write “a motherfucking heist novel” one day, and one of my inky cohorts begged me to make that the actual title, so I did. However, the family-friendly version is “A Melonfarming Heist Novel.” My current work-in-progress is a sequel to Rabbits in the Garden, so the title “Hares in the Hedgerow” came about organically. As did the third book I’m planning to write, “The Witches in Our Warrens.” But I usually agonize over this part of the writing process.
Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?
Jessica McHugh: In the past I’ve gotten more satisfaction from developing and writing novels, but since it’s been a few years since I started and completed a new novel, I have to show short stories some serious love. They’ve buoyed me as I’ve navigated the stormy waters of grief and depression. Without the magic of short stories, I might’ve drifted out to sea, never to write again, but they kept me paddling, striving to reach a glittering shore I once called home. Whether I’ll reach that satisfying shore of novel inspirado again, I don’t know, but I’m taking what fulfillment I can from the various short stories that have come and gone over the last few years.
Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories. I could spend the next few pages rattling on about my books (and definitely have before) but I’ll just say this: because of all the different genres in which I write, you might not enjoy all of my books, but I guarantee there’s at least one book in my catalog that’s up your alley. Except for the Darla Decker Diaries, I don’t usually write for a target audience–and even those were written for adults to enjoy too. And enjoyment is exactly what I want the reader to take away. Whether they derive it from stories about blossoming friendships or a stripper’s face being obliterated by a malfunctioning pinsetter, I want my readers to have a fun, complicated, messy, bonkers, devastating, hilarious time in the McHughniverse.
Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?
Jessica McHugh: I do save most of what I cut for possible use in other projects, but most of it will probably just chill in a folder until the end of time. As much as it hurts cutting cool scenes and lovely lines sometimes, I’ve learned to recognize when something simply doesn’t belong in a story. If it’s not telling the reader anything new about the characters or moving the plot forward, it’s gotta go.
Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?
Jessica McHugh: I wrote a historical fiction novel about playwright Christopher Marlowe’s secret life as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I. I loved it at the time, but anxiety about historical accuracy halted me.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Jessica McHugh: My latest novel “Hares in the Hedgerow” will likely be out from Post Mortem Press in 2020, but I have several short stories due out at the end of the year. “When the Moon Hits Your Eye,” a bloody tale of a home-invasion gone wrong is in the now famous pizza horror anthology, Tales from the Crust, from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing in October. “This Can Happen to You” is a story about a reluctant lottery winner navigating the ills of fame while trying to protect her baby that will appear in the Sara Tantlinger-edited anthology “Not All Monsters” from Strangehouse Books. I used the Fleetwood Mac song Gold Dust Woman as inspirado for my story “Pick Your Path and I’ll Pray,” which is part of the Burdizzo Mix Tape Volume 1, now available from Burdizzo Books, and my story “My Partner Went First,” which focuses heavily on a cat’s grief as it deals with the unexpected death of its owner will appear in Volume 2 of From a Cat’s View from Post-2-Print Publishing.
Meghan: Where can we find you?
Jessica McHugh: I’m on Instagram and Twitter, and I also run a Patreon page that folks can join for as little as $1 a month. I post a short story from my experimental compound novel, “WEBWORM,” as well as stories inspired by patron votes on polls about setting/genre. For $5 I’ll record a singing video to entertain my neighbors, of which patrons can request as many as they want every month, and I also mail out physical copies of one-of-a-kind blackout poetry for $10/ month. I’m probably most active on Instagram, though, so come find me!
Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?
Jessica McHugh: I just want to thank all of my fans and friendos who’ve supported me these past eleven years. Whether it’s reading and reviewing my books, subscribing on Patreon, buying my blackout poetry, or donating when times got rough, you have all made me feel like I (and my stories) really matter in this crazy and often fickle publishing world. It’s a gift I feel like I can only repay by creating more art. Which, thanks to your encouragement, I fully intend to do.
Jessica McHugh is a novelist and internationally produced playwright running amok in the fields of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and wherever else her peculiar mind leads. She’s had twenty-three books published in eleven years, including her bizarro romp, The Green Kangaroos, her Post Mortem Press bestseller, Rabbits in the Garden, and her YA series, The Darla Decker Diaries. More information on her published and forthcoming fiction can be found on her website.
Perry Samson loves drugs. He’ll take what he can get, but raw atlys is his passion. Shot hard and fast into his testicles, atlys helps him forget that he lives in an abandoned Baltimore school, that his roommate exchanges lumps of flesh for drugs at the Kum Den Smokehouse, and that every day is a moldering motley of whores, cuntcutters, and disease. Unfortunately, atlys never helps Perry forget that, even though his older brother died from an atlys overdose, he will never stop being the tortured middle child.
Set in 2099, THE GREEN KANGAROOS explores the disgusting world of Perry’s addiction to atlys and the Samson family’s addiction to his sobriety.
Patience is not Darla Decker’s strong suit. Surviving sixth grade is tough enough with an annoying older brother, a best friend acting distant, and schoolwork. After adding instructive kissing games and the torturous wait for a real date with her biggest crush, Darla is perpetually torn between behaving like an adult and throwing temper tantrums.
Games of flashlight tag, and the crazy cat lady roaming Shiloh Farms in a “demon bus,” serve as distractions during her parents’ quarrels and her anxiety about show choir auditions. Yet the more Darla waits for her adulthood to begin, the more she learns that summoning patience won’t be the hardest part of being eleven.
A frank and funny look at the path to adulthood, DARLA DECKER HATES TO WAIT begins a journey of love, loss, and the nitty-gritty of growing up through Darla Decker’s eyes.
The toppings: Terror and torment.
The crust: Stuffed with dread and despair.
And the sauce: Well, the sauce is always red.
Whether you’re in the mood for a Chicago-style deep dish of darkness, or prefer a New York wide slice of thin-crusted carnage, or if you just have a hankering for the cheap, cheesy charms of cardboard-crusted, delivered-to-your-door devilry; we have just the slice for you.
Bring your most monstrous of appetites, because we’re serving suspense and horrors both chillingly cosmic and morbidly mundane from acclaimed horror authors such as Brian Evenson, Jessica McHugh, and Cody Goodfellow, as well as up-and-coming literary threats like Craig Wallwork, Sheri White, and Tony McMillen.
Tales From the Crust, stories you can devour in thirty minutes or less or the next one’s free. Whatever that means.
At twelve years old, Avery Norton had everything: a boyfriend who was also her best friend, the entirety of Martha’s Vineyard as her playground, and her very own garden to tend. By thirteen, it was all over.The discovery of a secret crypt in the basement starts the Norton family down many unexpected avenues, including one that leads to Avery’s arrest for murder and her subsequent imprisonment in Taunton State Lunatic Asylum.
Set in 1950s Massachusetts, Rabbits in the Garden follows Avery Norton’s struggle to prove her innocence, exact her revenge, and escape Taunton with her mind intact.