Meghan: Welcome to our annual Halloween Extravaganza! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
J.H. Moncrieff: I’m an avid traveler, muay thai kickboxer, and teacher who writes mysteries that explore the dark side of human nature. I love animals of all kinds, long bubble baths, and black licorice.
Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?
- Though not much scares me, I can be incredibly claustrophobic. I never know what will bring it on, but when it happens, it’s absolutely terrifying.
- I once had a sushi roll named after me.
- I read more true crime than any other genre, and once hoped to be a forensic psychologist.
- I’ve been writing “books” since I was five years old (the earliest ones were more like picture books). When I was a child, an author named Budge Wilson told me I could be a writer, too. I’ve never forgotten that – or her.
- In my journalism days, I interviewed Kiefer Sutherland, tracked down a sniper, and spent a month in Africa (not for the same story). I still write the occasional article for magazines and newspapers.
Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?
J.H. Moncrieff: Either The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, or one of the Richard Scarry books—I can’t remember the title, but it was a treasury, and it was huge. I also liked fairytales, but of the Brothers Grimm variety.
Meghan: What are you reading now?
J.H. Moncrieff: A friend’s book: In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch. I met the author, John Zada, at a writers’ conference where we were both presenting, and we bonded over the fact that we were both writing books about sasquatches with the word ‘valley’ in the title. However, his book is non-fiction.
Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?
J.H. Moncrieff: People might be surprised to discover I enjoy reading lighter women’s fiction and travel memoirs. I love Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, and Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. I’m also a fan of a good cozy mystery where the protagonist isn’t an annoying busybody.
Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?
J.H. Moncrieff: I’m not sure I had a choice. I’ve always been a natural storyteller, both verbally and in writing. I’ve been writing stories since I learned how to write, and even before that, with pictures.
Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?
J.H. Moncrieff: It depends on the season. In the warmer months, I love to write on my deck amongst the squirrels and birds. When it’s cold, I prefer the bathtub. (Weird, I know, but I like it.)
Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
J.H. Moncrieff: Some would say the above is a quirk. Other than that, I like to burn a scented candle, but I don’t have to. What I do need is silence. Any kind of noise, and sadly, even music, can distract me.
Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
J.H. Moncrieff: Fitting writing into a busy life, and actually writing when I have the time. I struggle with getting as much done as I’d like.
Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?
J.H. Moncrieff: A non-fiction article that helped a blind man regain his sight (he found out about an eye surgeon who could work miracles). It’s hard to top that. In fiction, it would be a novel called The Last Bit of Light, which is about a woman who buys an old plantation house on a Caribbean island, only to discover it’s haunted by the ghost of a slave. The ghost has his own point of view, from the moment he’s kidnapped in West Africa until the day he dies in a rebellion. It’s a complicated book that involved a ton of research, and I’m really proud of it, but it might never be published, because the combination of ghost story, historical novel, and women’s fiction is a bit different, to say the least.
Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
J.H. Moncrieff: It’s almost a cliché, but definitely Stephen King. Some of Elizabeth Berg’s writing, especially her way of describing “ordinary” things, is so beautiful it makes me want to weep, but I could never aspire to that. When I was a child, books about ghosts, monsters, and unexplained phenomenon inspired me. I was a big fan of the Time Life Mysteries of the Unknown series. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was the entire set of those books.
Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?
J.H. Moncrieff: Characters you care about. A plot that holds your attention and isn’t predictable. Suspense and a bit of mystery—readers should be wondering about something. I like well-rounded characters with flaws, and it’s cool if the setting is intriguing.
Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
J.H. Moncrieff: I have to be able to empathize with them in some way, or at least find them interesting. I’m a bit different when it comes to my own characters, because I don’t consciously “create” them. They appear in my head and start telling me their story, and I give them all the agency they need. I’m never quite sure what they’re going to do. Keeps life interesting.
Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
J.H. Moncrieff: None of my characters as a whole, but there are little elements in some of them. Jackson’s sarcasm (GhostWriters series). Nøkken from Monsters in Our Wake shares a lot of my opinions, especially about the destruction of the environment. Chief Kinew’s love of reading (Those Who Came Before). Josh’s teddy bear is based on one I was given as a child (The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave).
Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?
J.H. Moncrieff: I mostly feel sympathetic towards the author when I see a bad cover. As for me, in some cases I had a lot of involvement, and in others, very little. My first cover was a bit embarrassing, but that version of the book is now out of print. The new cover is great.
Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?
J.H. Moncrieff: I learned something different from all of them. As a whole, I’ve learned that if I just trust my process (letting the characters lead the story), it’ll all work out. This is harder than it sounds when I’m in the middle of a book and have no idea where it’s going or how it’s going to end.
Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?
J.H. Moncrieff: In one of my earlier books, a preteen girl is gangraped and murdered by a group of teenagers. My editor at the time told me not to flinch—that to do it justice, it had to be graphic. After I finished writing it, I threw up. Then I cried. My characters are very real to me. It was also very hard to kill Lutalo from The Last Bit of Light. I knew he had to die, but I kept putting it off. I bawled pretty hard that day.
Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
J.H. Moncrieff: My supernatural suspense are different because they’re set in unusual, haunted places all over the world that I’ve actually visited. My horror books are different because the “monsters” are usually not the evil ones. There’s something unexpected in all of them. I’d call it horror with heart—they’re psychological, and rely on the interaction of characters rather than gore.
All my books tend to have the underlying theme of “The sins of the past are revisited in the present.” It’s not intentional, but I do believe the bad things we’ve done can come back to haunt us. Sometimes literally.
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)?
J.H. Moncrieff: The title is extremely important. I also find it extremely difficult to come up with one, in most cases. I often let my readers decide. For my upcoming release, Those Who Came Before, I held a contest on my Facebook page and the best title won. The Last Bit of Light took forever to name. I went through dozens and dozens of prospective titles before I landed on the right one.
Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?
J.H. Moncrieff: Writing a novel, because of the time, energy, and skill involved. Not that short stories don’t require skill, but to maintain interest throughout 300 pages or more, and to make sure all loose ends are tied up in a satisfying conclusion, is exceptionally difficult. I still don’t find it easy and I’ve written fourteen novels now, with two more nearing completion.
Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.
J.H. Moncrieff: I primarily write supernatural suspense, thrillers, and psychological horror, so I just say “dark fiction” to make it easier. They tend to be set in unusual places around the world: a haunted island off the coast of Venice, a Chinese ghost city, the notorious Dyatlov Pass—or in the case of Those Who Came Before, a cursed campground.
While I hope to be entertaining, I also want to provoke thought with my work. Those Who Came Before shines a light on some of the horrible injustices and cruelty Native Americans suffered and are still suffering; City of Ghosts is fictional, but delves into the way girls were considered expendable in China; and Monsters in Our Wake features a sea creature who is pissed off at the oil industry for ruining his home. If my novels make people think, that’s all I can ask for.
My target audience is avid readers who understand sarcasm, aren’t offended by off-color characters, love to travel or wish they could, and don’t want their endings wrapped up in a neat bow. It helps if they’re willing to explore other cultures and perspectives without judgement.
Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?
J.H. Moncrieff: Usually I don’t delete much anymore, but an upcoming Audible Original release (Dragonfly Summer) used to be a hundred pages longer. As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve gotten better at learning where to start a story and what to leave out. I don’t think anything was left out of Those Who Came Before.
Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?
J.H. Moncrieff: Oh, I have so many. I’ve had an idea for a children’s picture book series for years now. I’d love to have time to go through the photos from my travels and post a few, get some of them edited and printed. And there’s a bookcase that needs to be painted… I also love reading cookbooks and trying new recipes, but once my classes gear up in the fall, there’s never enough time.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
J.H. Moncrieff: Book Five in the GhostWriters series, Mask of Ghosts. My latest creature feature, Valley of the Sasquatch. Dragonfly Summer, a psychological thriller, which should be released in December. Another psychological thriller about a couple who decide to tackle an unsolved cold case (title TBD). So many books, so little time!
Meghan: Where can we find you?
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?
J.H. Moncrieff: I’d just like to thank everyone who has read my books, reviewed them, shared them. I love hearing from readers, and those emails and messages make my day. Being an author can be isolating, and I’m an extrovert—I need human contact, which is why I started teaching writing and marketing. To hear that something I wrote affected someone, or made them feel better, or kept them up all night… what could be better than that?
J.H. Moncrieff’s City of Ghosts won the 2018 Kindle Book Review Award for Best Horror/Suspense. Reviewers have described her work as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure. She won Harlequin‘s international search for “the next Gillian Flynn” in 2016. Monsters in Our Wake, her deep-sea thriller with Severed Press, hit the top of Amazon’s horror bestsellers list, beating King’s re-released It to the top spot. Her supernatural suspense GhostWriters series has earned rave reviews from Kirkus, BlueInk, and Library Journal.
Moncrieff began her writing career as a journalist, tracking down snipers and canoeing through crocodile-infested waters. Her articles have appeared in many publications, including Chatelaine, FLARE, Writer’s Digest, and The Globe and Mail. She also spent years working in marketing, public relations, and communications, and now teaches workshops all over the world.When not writing, she loves exploring haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.
People are dying at Strong Lake, and the worst is yet to come.
An idyllic weekend camping trip is cut short when Reese Wallace’s friends are brutally murdered. As the group’s only survivor, Reese is the prime suspect, and his story doesn’t make much sense. A disembodied voice warning him to leave the campground the night before? A strange, blackened tree that gave him an electric shock when he cut it down for firewood?
Detective Greyeyes isn’t having any of it―until she hears the voice herself and finds an arrowhead at the crime scene―an arrowhead she can’t get rid of. Troubling visions of a doomed Native American tribe who once called the campground home, and rumors of cursed land and a mythical beast plague the strangest murder case she’s ever been a part of.