Halloween: INTERVIEW: Michaelbrent Collings

Meghan: Hi, Michaelbrent. It is an absolute pleasure having you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michaelbrent Collings: Billionaire playboy by day, dark vigilante by night. Or maybe that’s Batman. Shoot.

As for me, much less cool.* I’m a writer. I am best known for horror, in which genre I’m an international bestseller, multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist, and one of the top indie authors in the US, but I have also written bestsellers in sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, suspense, urban fantasy, and even Western romance. So though I’m not Batman*, I do apparently have a multiple personality thing going that even he would be proud of.

*I SAY I’m not Batman, but have you ever seen me and him in the same room together? So there you go.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Michaelbrent Collings: Hmmm… tough one. I’m a pretty open book, so that’s a great question! Here goes:

1) I abhor coconut, which I can only assume was created as a practical joke.
2) My favorite movie is Harvey.
3) My favorite movie STARS are Cary Grant and Bob Hope.
4) I asked my wife to marry me 10 days after our first date.
5) I am typing this in my in-laws’ house. And if you already KNEW about this one, then GET OUTTA MY IN-LAWS’ HOUSE, YA CREEPY STALKER!

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Michaelbrent Collings: This one is IMPOSSIBLE. Because I grew up in a house of books – my dad was the head of Creative Writing in a major university when I was a kid – I have no memory of life without books. I do remember my mom reading the Narnia books to us on the front lawn, and being bored of the whole Dick & Jane thing in kindergarten because I already knew how to read. But first book? That’s like asking about my memories of a first breath.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Michaelbrent Collings: I read tons of different thing. I tell people that the depth and breadth of my reading habits are limited only by the square footage of the tops of my toilet tanks. Because I’m a dad, so my best reading is typically done in the one room my kids have not claimed as a “team sports” kinda space.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Michaelbrent Collings: Probably Les Miserables or Winnie the Pooh. Since I’m best known as a horror guy, that kind of thing surprises a lot of people. But both are masterfully written, full of lyricism, and are built around themes that wove themselves into my mental DNA when I read them for the first time.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: See above re house of books and Dad’s job. My earliest memory of writing is taking a red crayon to unlined paper and writing a one-page “story” about a bird. My dad then very kindly took it and helped me with some great critiques about the story, and how I could make it even better. He was and is my best writing teacher.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Michaelbrent Collings: Pretty much anywhere with wifi access and a refillable Diet Coke policy. ;o)

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Michaelbrent Collings: Mostly it’s pretty drudge-like. I tell people who yearn to be full-time writers that as soon as you GET that job, you realize how much like OTHER jobs it really is. It’s a great job, don’t get me wrong, but it is work, and most work is by nature boring and banal.

My one quirk would probably be in the “coming up with idea” stage I do a lot of walking in tight circles and mumbling to myself. My wife and kids are used to it, and say nary a word when I will suddenly sit up straight at dinner, blurt a phrase that means nothing to anyone other than me, and then rush away to write whatever the idea was on a note card or something.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Michaelbrent Collings: Almost all of it. But it’s a challenge that I love; that stretches me and forces me to always try to be better than I was the last time.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Michaelbrent Collings: The most satisfying thing I’ve written – now and forever – is whatever book I just finished. So right now it’s Scavenger Hunt. In a few months it’ll be something different. Each book is terrifying in its own way – not just story-wise, but to me as an author – and so finishing each one is like discovering and then conquering a brand new mountain.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Michaelbrent Collings: Books that inspire me:

1) The Bible – regardless of theology, it’s the single most influential book in the English language, and has some of the most stunning imagery and language.
2) Winnie the Pooh and Peter & Wendy – both are beautiful mixes of laughter, whimsy, and adventure.
3) Les Miserables
4) Too many others to list

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Michaelbrent Collings: I can only answer that one for myself. And for myself I’d say: a plot that is fun on its face, filled with interesting characters who do NOT make stupid or irrational decisions for no good reason other than authorial laziness, and themes I can unpack on later readings.

I read a lot of different genres, and any book that has those things in it will definitely get a second look from me.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Michaelbrent Collings: Two different kinds of love here:
1) admiration
2) envy

For the first, I love characters who are good. Who desperately try to do what is right, and whose passions and decisions are all channeled through a moral lens that helps them find truth – both for themselves and for the reader.

For the second, I love villains that do and say things that I would love to do or say were I to give into my most awful moments. The ones who would slaughter the person who goes through the 15-items-or-less line with 16-items-or-more.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Michaelbrent Collings: That one’s easy: Ken Strickland from my series The Colony Saga. He and his family are explicitly modeled on me and mine. It’s a zombie apocalypse series, and I wanted to really ground it in reality – no supermen, no cops who have access to caches of weapons. Just normal folks. So I made the story a seven-book “what would I do in that situation?” story.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Michaelbrent Collings: I am definitely turned off by a bad cover – more in indie works than in traditionally published stuff. In trad-pub, the author has little or no say over the cover, so I won’t judge the words by some outside factor he or she did not control. In indie stuff, a bad cover just says to me that the person involved either a) doesn’t care or b) isn’t competent. Neither of those encourages me to hand over my money.

I do my own covers, so I’m always watching for good and bad covers so that I can mimic the traits of the former and avoid the pitfalls of the latter.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Michaelbrent Collings: Mostly that it’s work. Always and forever. When I started out, I remember sitting on a panel at a writing con with James Dashner and Brandon Mull and feeling like a fraud. Now I sit on panels as someone who’s sold many many books and has been up for awards and even written movies… and I still feel like a fraud as often as not. I never feel like I’ve learned enough or done enough, and I suppose that in the final analysis that’s a good thing, because it keeps me growing as a writer and a person.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Michaelbrent Collings: Definitely the one in The Colony Saga where one of Ken’s children dies. No spoilers, but since that family was modeled on mine, the moment I realized that one of the kids was going to die – as a hero, but dead at the end just the same – writing that was incredibly draining emotionally. I came home a wreck, and when my wife asked what was wrong I told her I’d had to imagine how our child would die in that situation. She understood – bless her heart! – and helped me through a pretty dark moment or two in the coming days.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Michaelbrent Collings: I think that one of the things is that because I DO write in so many genres, my books are able to draw on a lot of different genre elements to enrich whatever book I’m writing. My YA fantasy has dashes of horror, my science fiction exists in a thriller world, my romance understands that high stakes make ultimate triumph more valuable. Also, I genuinely like people, and I think that shows through in how I treat characters. All of them – even the villains – are folks who have made rational decisions given their life experiences, and I think that recognition allows me to write characters who have more verisimilitude and definitely are more capable of being sympathetic to the audience.

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)?

Michaelbrent Collings: Ugh. Titles are SO HARD and SO IMPORTANT. I think I’m getting better at them, but they still cause me misery.

Most of the time I will try to put multiple layers in the title. Predators is about a safari that goes wrong and its survivors are tracked by a pack of hungry hyenas… and also about a group of women scarred by emotional predators. Terminal is about a group of people in a bus terminal who are made to choose one of their number to survive the night… and so the decisions the make are final, terminal ones in the truest sense. Scavenger Hunt is about a group of people who find themselves in a horrific scavenger hunt where the tasks or horrible and cruel… and then they find out that they have already been involved in a different – and much more cruel – kind of scavenger hunt in their own lives.

Titles should tell the audience what they’re in for at the very least – give them a sense of the genre, the “feel” of the book. But it’s nice to make one that they read before starting the book and say, “Sounds cool!” and then they read it after they’ve finished and go, “Ohhhh! NOW I get it!”

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Michaelbrent Collings: Novel, definitely. I feel like they’re less ephemeral, and because of the length I can certainly take up more real estate in the readers’ brains. I get to settle in and move things around over a longer period of time and – hopefully – make that much more of a difference in their lives at the end.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Michaelbrent Collings: My target audience is anyone who likes a good yarn. Simply that. I try to make my books entertaining on their face, and hope that the first thing readers take away is a bit of escapism and fun. I also hope that they can go back and re-read them, see foreshadowing and clues I layer into all my books, and pick out the themes I try to use to shore up the walls of my plots.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Michaelbrent Collings: There aren’t really that many. I have an editing process that really works, and most of my books end up in final draft pretty close to how they finished out as first drafts.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Michaelbrent Collings: Hopefully years of writing. Like I said, Scavenger Hunt hit on October 31, and in the future I’ll probably be releasing a middle grade fantasy called THE DYING IMMORTALS, then a prequel to my apocalyptic thriller THIS DARKNESS LIGHT.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I’m pretty easy to find. First of all, I’m the only “Michaelbrent” in the world, so just google that and I pop up right away. Failing that:

Website (Written Insomnia: “Stories that keep you up all night”) ** Facebook ** Twitter

You can also sign up for my email list (and get some free books).

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?

Michaelbrent Collings: Only this: thanks for letting me chat with you!

One of the most versatile writers around, Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist, produced screenwriter, and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist. While he is best known for horror (and is one of the most successful indie horror authors in the United States), he has also written bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, humor, young adult, and middle grade works, and Western Romance.

As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written dozens of bestsellers that have also received critical acclaim, and he and his work have been featured on everything from mom-and-pop podcasts to Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Book Review, and NPR.

Find more about him at his website or sign up for his mailing list (and get a free book!).

Scavenger Hunt

“I already know all your names. As for me… you can call me Mr. Do-Good.”

Five strangers have woken up in a white room. A room with no doors, no windows. 

A room with no hope.

Because these strangers have been kidnapped, drugged… and brought here as the newest contestants in the world’s most high-stakes scavenger hunt. Run by a madman named Mr. Do-Good, the game offers only two options: win or die. 

All they have to do to survive is… complete every task… on time… and not break any of Do-Good’s rules.

Playing the game will bring the players to their breaking point and beyond. But play they will, because Do-Good has plans for these strangers, and their only chance to live through the night is to discover what’s really behind his Scavenger Hunt.

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