INTERVIEW: Jonathan Fortin

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jonathan Fortin: My name is Jonathan. My debut novel Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus came out today and I’m very excited about it!

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

Jonathan Fortin:
-I’m a trained voice actor in addition to being a writer. I also have experience acting on stage and in front of the camera.
-Contrary to popular belief, my top hat is not affixed to my head. And no, I don’t shower in it.
-I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs, but less because of moral reasons and more because I’m fussy and sensitive to the tastes and smells. My taste buds are so sensitive that I can’t even enjoy coffee.
-I do, however, drink earl grey tea every morning.
-I am on the autistic spectrum, which explains the hypersensitivity.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jonathan Fortin: I honestly don’t know. Goodnight Moon? Runaway Bunny? Green Eggs and Ham?

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jonathan Fortin: I’m just finishing up The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Brilliant stuff.

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

Jonathan Fortin: While I mostly read Horror and Fantasy, there are a few non-spectulative books that come to mind. James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues is one of my absolute favorite short stories. I’m also fond of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Minstry.

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

Jonathan Fortin: You know, it was kind of always just what I did. As a kid, I wrote children’s books. As a teenager, I wrote young adult books. I first dreamed of being a writer from a young age, because it was the only way I could create the stories in my head. I couldn’t make movies or video games, but I could write. When I was younger, I was interested in exploring the film and video game industries, but quickly realized I didn’t want to deal with the difficulties or creative constraints inherent to them. So I stuck to writing because it seemed the most feasible way to bring my creative visions to life.

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

Jonathan Fortin: No, but I should probably find one. It’s honestly hard for me to focus anywhere I go, and when I’m at home I just want to be lazy.

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

Jonathan Fortin: I get very detail-focused and sometimes get tripped up on getting a certain detail just right before moving on. Then I’ll get caught by it again when redrafting, because I’m not sure it’s quite there yet.

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

Jonathan Fortin: It’s less the writing itself and more the factors surrounding it, such as time management. Blocking out the time and energy to write is hard. So are other factors like promoting the book, networking, attending conventions, etc. Another problem I have is that at any given time I’ll have too many book ideas crawling around in my head, and I get indecisive about which one to work on, constantly distracted by my other ideas.

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

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus takes the cake for sure. It spans years, has a ton of characters who all needed to develop and change over time, and it combines multiple genres together. It was hugely ambitious for a first novel, and I had to redraft it many times before it was ready.

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

Jonathan Fortin: Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, H.P. Lovecraft, Alan Moore, Holly Black, J.K. Rowling, Joe Hill, Dan Simmons, Junji Ito, Haruki Murakami, Clive Barker, Carlton Mellick III, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and Michael Cox all come to mind.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jonathan Fortin: Regardless of genre: characters that intrigue you, struggling hard to get things that mean the world to them. A fast pace, so you’re never bored. Beautiful prose. Lots of details. Strong craft elements. You know a story is working when it absorbs you, immerses you in its world—feels more real to you than the real world. But everyone gets immersed by different things, so actually executing this is easier said than done.

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

Jonathan Fortin: It’s tricky for me to find characters I love because I don’t relate to most people in the first place, real or fictional. I find that I connect best with characters who make me laugh, or feel true and genuine and deeply flawed. A lot of my characters tend to be dealing with some kind of trauma, because it’s something that I and most of my friends struggle with.

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

Jonathan Fortin: I deliberately avoid basing any characters directly on myself, but I will say that one of my current projects involves being on the spectrum. While that character isn’t based on myself, they struggle with some of the things I’ve always struggled with.

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

Jonathan Fortin: I am absolutely turned off by a bad cover. It’s shallow, I know, and I’m not saying I won’t read a really great book just because its cover stinks. But it’s hard to not let a cover set your expectations for the book’s aesthetic style. I’m something of an aesthete, and visualize my books very strongly in my head, so I demand a certain degree of control over my book covers. I was terrified that with Lilitu we would get a cover with a ton of cleavage and/or a naked man chest. Fortunately, my publisher Crystal Lake was very willing to put me directly in touch with our cover artist, Ben Baldwin, and Ben was super receptive to my ideas. We all ended up being extremely happy with the beautiful cover he created.

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Jonathan Fortin: Everything takes longer than you want it to, and that’s okay.

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

Jonathan Fortin: There’s a certain massive battle sequence in one of my novel projects that was just a thorn at my side for years. I love how it turned out, but that book still needs work, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer to read it, sorry.

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

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus takes the folklore of succubi and incubi seriously. Its succubi aren’t merely evil seductresses or mindless sex objects for the male gaze. Indeed, it deconstructs the Seductress and Byronic Hero archetypes to explore the emotional ramifications of such beings.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?

Jonathan Fortin: I think it’s important for the title to pull readers in and give them an idea what to expect. I went with Lilitu because I decided that it would be the title of the series, with The Memoirs of a Succubus being the title of the first book. I felt that readers would be drawn to the idea of a high-quality succubus horror novel that didn’t look cheesy or shlocky, since there aren’t too many of those out there.

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

Jonathan Fortin: I’m a novel guy. Big, epic stories are what occupy my headpsace. They take forever to finish, but once you finally do, there’s nothing more satisfying. It’s like a very slow exorcism.

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

Jonathan Fortin: My fiction is overtly Gothic. I like corsets, crumbling old castles, shadows, monsters, and magic. I like dark humor, psychological complexity, epic battles with clashing swords, tragic love, and sex that you really want but really, really shouldn’t have. I like body horror—transformations, monsterifications, and a general loss of humanity. Above all, I like taking readers into a dark reflection of our own world, revealing difficult truths along the way. Lilitu, for example, is ostensibly about succubi and incubi, but it uses them in order to explore issues of gender, class, and sexual repression.

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

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu needed serious revising because the first draft of it was written years ago, when I was younger and more of an edgelord. It contained a lot more gratuitous violence, particularly towards women, which I just felt took away from the message and would limit the audience significantly. It’s still a very dark, violent book, but I think the final draft is less excessive.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jonathan Fortin: There’s an Epic Lovecraftian book that I need to finish editing. I have a solid first draft but it’s super long and rough, and I’m honestly too intimidated to touch it right now. But soon.

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

Jonathan Fortin: More Lilitu books, and more unrelated books—primarily, but probably not exclusively, horror and dark fantasy.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jonathan Fortin: Website ** Twitter ** Facebook

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?

Jonathan Fortin: Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy the book.

About the author:
Jonathan Fortin is an author and voice actor located in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus, Requiem in Frost, and Nightmarescape. A lifelong lover of spooky gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by HorrorAddicts. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program.

About the book:
England, 1876. Twenty-year-old Maraina Blackwood has always struggled to adhere to the restrictive standards of Victorian society, denying the courage and desire that burn within her soul. But after a terrifying supernatural encounter, Maraina’s instincts compel her to action.

Maraina soon discovers a plot to unleash a new world—one of demonic aristocrats, bloody rituals, and nightmarish monsters. Putting her upbringing aside, Maraina vows to fight the dark forces assuming control of England. But as her world transforms, Maraina finds that she too must transform…and what she becomes will bring out all that she once buried.

Happy Birthday to the World’s Greatest Dad + An Interview with Michaelbrent Collings

Today is the birthday of the World’s Greatest Dad – not to be confused with all of those other fathers out there who believe that this title is theirs. It’s partly because of him – and completely because he married my mother – that I am the person I am today, and I thank God every day that I was able to have the time with him that I did. Unfortunately, he passed away while I was in high school – a million years ago, but just like yesterday – and has spent the last 20+ years being a guardian angel to a kid that really needed him.

When Michaelbrent asked me if I would be interested in reading his latest, Stranger Still, and said that the release date was today, I knew that having him on for a second interview would be the PERFECT birthday present to my dad. Michaelbrent is the kind of author that would have captured my dad’s attention, and he writes the kind of books that my father would have made sure his daughters spent some time with. I am excited to be able to sit down with his latest – it looks fantastic – and honored to have him here today.

So, without further adieu…

Meghan: Hi, Michaelbrent! It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Michaelbrent Collings: SO much! I’ve written some more books – my newest, Stranger Still, hits today – and I’m a dad and husband so life only functions on “sleep deprived” and “slightly more sleep deprived.” But it’s been a great time overall. Just finished out the most successful year of my career and passed a quarter-million ebooks sold, so I can’t complain!

Meghan: A quarter-million ebooks?! That’s amazing!! Who are you outside of writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: See above re “dad and husband.” My most important jobs all revolve around them. There’s also a lot of church stuff (which often makes people laugh given what kind of thing I write), and I’m also involved in community stuff. I mentor a recently-released felon, I try to take my kids to do service around our city, things like that. But first, last, and mostly: family.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Michaelbrent Collings: Great! Most of them are big readers, so it’s actually more “who can I count on not reading my book?” Obviously my kids are too young for some of the books I write, but other than that… have at it! If I was ashamed/worried about someone reading something, I’d have to ask myself why I was doing something like that. I’m not ashamed of what I do, or who knows about it. So read away.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Michaelbrent Collings: Why can’t it be both?

That’s the nature of good things – they tend to come paired with a bad thing, and vice-versa. Writing is a huge blessing in that it allows me to express myself, to try and tell stories that entertain and enlighten, and that allow me to hang out with tens of thousands of readers who have provided me with a livelihood. It’s a curse in that it so often keeps me up at night, makes me ramble incomprehensibly, and sometimes just sees straight-up incompatible with “normal” life.

But overall: blessing. Definitely.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: Well, I grew up in a reading and writing environment, so that was huge. My father was the Creative Writing Director for a major university, and my mother spent many nights and weekends reading books to us as children and then – as we grew – reading the stories that we wrote. Dad was also the world expert on Stephen King for a good long time, so I grew up with screaming in the house as a good thing.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Michaelbrent Collings: I couldn’t even begin to guess! All I know is that I’ve researched enough bizarro stuff that every once in a while I wave and hold up a sign that says “Hi!” so that whatever NSA guy is monitoring me through my laptop’s webcam will have a nicer day.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Michaelbrent Collings: The end, definitely. That’s where everything comes together, so it tends to be the most emotional as an experience. And though I always try to craft a story that people can enjoy spending a day or two with, sometimes people forget that I haven’t spent a few days with it. I’ve spent weeks or months with it, and by the time I get to the end I very often just want to get it over with! I try not to rush things, but there’s definitely a cumulative exhaustion that sets in.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I do ‘em all. With Stranger Still, I mostly pantsed it. Same with The Colony Saga, which was a seven-book series. On the other hand, I typically do pretty thorough outlines for mysteries like Blood Relations and The Longest Con. They’re all fun to do – though going in without an outline is definitely the scariest because it usually isn’t until about 2/3 of the way through that I finally figure out what’s happening myself!

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Michaelbrent Collings: Giggle maniacally.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Michaelbrent Collings: Think about all my vices – like paying for food and shelter.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Michaelbrent Collings: Yes, but it’s changed a lot over the years. I do a lot more non-fiction reading for fun, and while I read a lot of fiction as well, it tends to be during the day as part of the “market research” aspect of my work.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Michaelbrent Collings: There are very few I don’t. I don’t like erotica, but other than that, the breadth and width of my reading tastes are pretty wide.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Michaelbrent Collings: Depends on the movie. I don’t get mad when movies don’t follow books – they’re different beasties, and changes should be made. But I do not like a bad movie regardless of it’s genesis. So I like good movies based on books, and bad ones make me groan.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Michaelbrent Collings:
All.
The.
Time.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Michaelbrent Collings: Quite the opposite. I tend to get very into my characters’ heads, so writing about their pain hurts me as well. I wrote a character based on one of my children, and when I realized he was going to die for the story to work, I really had a bad day. The day I wrote that scene was worse – I barely talked at home that night.

That said, I do make them suffer. Suffering is not only interesting, but it shows us who the characters really are – and hopefully that way also shows us what kind of people we are as we read.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Michaelbrent Collings: OHMIGOSH. There’s a character in Stranger Still that I just had a blast with. He is a murderous psychopath who is a narcissist of unbelievable proportions – to the point that he believes every thought he has is deep, even though the extent of his education is mostly reading Netflix descriptions and Instagram posts. He was a hilarious set of dichotomies and I worried it wouldn’t work, but advance readers almost all have mentioned how much they loved/hated the guy.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Michaelbrent Collings:
Best: keep writing
Worst: give up

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Michaelbrent Collings: They mean so very much. I write because I have to. But I write full-time because they allow it. They support my family, and so there is a debt I can never hope to repay.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: More books! I will be working on a paranormal horror novel (tentatively called The Forest) about a pair of teens who go into a forest where their friend has been lost. Two of the three survive, because of what happens there. Twenty years later they go back… and things get even worse.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I’m easy to find. Just Google “Michaelbrent” and you’ll find me!

Or…
Facebook
Twitter

You can also sign up for my mailing list (called Michaelbrent’s Minions) and get a free book, plus special access to deals and giveaways!

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 or the last?

Michaelbrent Collings: Just thank you. I appreciate every single person who’s made this weird, wild, wonderful trip possible!

About the book:
Your sins are Legion…
… and now you belong to him.

Legion is a teacher. An avenging angel. A murderer.
A madman.

Born in the blood of a dying mother, raised in the underground hideout of an insane father, he travels the world looking for those who keep secrets and sins. He finds those who have fallen short, and teaches them the lessons they need to leave their mistakes behind.

And if he has to teach a lesson that ends in death, well… sometimes that’s the cost of proper education.

That’s why, when he sees a man kidnap two people on the side of the road, Legion knows it is time to teach again.

Soon he finds himself caught in the crossfire of a coup in a Russian crime syndicate. Legion is captured, beaten, bleeding, in chains; cut off and alone. 

It’s just the way he likes it.

Legion has his students. And the lessons are about to begin…

About the author:
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.