AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ken MacGregor

Earlier this month, Blood Bound Books released their latest anthology, Burnt Fur, edited by Ken MacGregor. I have been lucky enough to sit down with Ken, and several of the authors involved in this anthology, and over the next week, will be sharing these interviews with you.

Meghan: Hi, Ken. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ken MacGregor: Certainly. I’m a father of two, who drives the bookmobile for the local library, and I’ve been an actor, a stage and movie director (some professionally), a cook, cab driver, hotel desk clerk, and about a hundred and fifty other things in my 53 years.

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

Ken MacGregor: I have eleven tattoos (so far). I was married for seventeen years (until death did us part). I did sketch comedy for five years. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a magician (that did not work out). My first book-crush was the Xanth series of youth fantasy novels by Piers Anthony.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Ken MacGregor: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Pfieffer).

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Ken MacGregor: The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh, and The Mambo Kings Played Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. Almost finished with both, which is good, because I have a never-ending pile of books to read.

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

Ken MacGregor: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (who also wrote The Elements of Style, a book every writer should own). It’s a kid’s book, but it opens with a man carrying an axe, planning to spill blood.

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

Ken MacGregor: It’s funny, because I’ve always been a storyteller, for as long as I can remember. I got a poem published in my elementary school newsletter. But I never considered trying to get stuff published for real until almost ten years ago. I was acting in movies, working with friends who were very good at it. One of them, Brian Lillie (who also writes horror, and is very good. You should look him up) said he wanted to make the scariest short movie of all time. So, I tried to write it. I sent him script after script, annoying him until he finally told me to write them as short stories instead, put me in touch with the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers, and the rest sort of snowballed. Now, I have a ton of stuff in print, a novel and a novella on the way, get invited to write for anthologies, and am a professional editor. How the hell did all that happen?

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

Ken MacGregor: I like my comfy chair in the living room (I’m there right now), sunlight streaming in behind me, pen in hand, wide-rule composition book in front of me. But I can write pretty much anywhere: on breaks at work, in a coffee shop (during non-pandemic times), over breakfast, in the park…

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

Ken MacGregor: A couple years ago, I decided to set aside my laptop and write an entire novella (the one that’s getting published this year) completely by hand. Up to then, I had typed all my first drafts. It was great! I was so much more in tune with the story, and it flowed more easily. Since, I’ve written almost everything longhand first. When I transcribe it to computer, I do my first real edit. This system has worked well for me. I won’t suggest you do it. Everyone has their own process, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. But, it might. You’re welcome to try it.

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

Ken MacGregor: It’s not the writing itself I find challenging. It’s the process of publishing. The endless waiting, the staggering number of rejections, the number of revisions and re-edits needed to get things in print (especially with the novel!) that I find frustrating. It has taught me to be patient (in all aspects of my life), but I still loathe how long everything takes.

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

Ken MacGregor: That’s a difficult thing to answer. It’s dependent on context in a lot of ways. So, I’ll give you my most recent example. I was invited to write for an anthology a few months back. The genre was “magical realism” and I’d not only never tried to write that but hadn’t read any either. The editor suggested I read some Gabriel Garcia Marquez to get a feel for the genre. I did and loved it. I tried to write one story that I thought was inadequate, so wrote another and sent it to a friend whose opinion I deeply respect. She swore at me and said she wished she had written it. I took this as a good sign. Sent it to the editor, who loved it too, and it’s scheduled to be in the book (should be out around October of this year). That was pretty damn satisfying.

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

Ken MacGregor: Good Omens, The Earthsea Trilogy, the entire Amber series (Roger Zelazny was a huge influence on me, which also answers the second part). I’ve been profoundly affected by Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Steve Martin (he’s a writer too!), Ursula K. LeGuin, and dozens more.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Ken MacGregor: Characters we can relate to, love or hate, root for or want to see fall; settings we can imagine walking through, seeing, smelling, tasting the world; conflict: if the protagonist isn’t suffering, I’m bored; dialogue that seems real and true to the character (I’ve read some otherwise fantastic fiction that left me lukewarm because of the dialogue).

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

Ken MacGregor: They have to be believable, first and foremost. And, they have to be true to themselves. If you’re writing a drug addict, and you put them in a room with drugs, they should be dying to do them. If they aren’t, you’ve lost my trust as a reader. When I write, I let my characters make choices based on who they are. If I put them in peril (and I do, pretty much all the time, because that’s my job), they should react as themselves. If I catch myself trying to help them get out of it, I put on the brakes and get my natural inclination to be nice out of the way. It’s not my place to be nice. The best is when the characters take on a life of their own and make decisions without my consent. Inevitably, when this happens (not often enough for my tastes, but more than it used to), the story is much better for it. I’ve had stories go wildly different than intended because the characters were like, “Nope. That’s not what we want to do.” And I listen, because they know better than I.

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

Ken MacGregor: Gavin the Werewolf. No contest. He’s basically me, idealized and indestructible. He’s a wiseass, fun-loving maniac who happens to transform into a giant wolf and loves fighting monsters (the bigger and tougher the better). He’s in four short stories (five, if you count the one I’m writing now) and is one of the main characters in my co-authored (with Kerry Lipp) novel, HEADCASE (coming soon).

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

Ken MacGregor: Bad covers are horrible. I know you’re not supposed to judge, but I do. We all do. I’ve been heavily involved in the cover-creating process for both my story collections, the novel, and with Burnt Fur. Mostly, my involvement has been approval (or otherwise) of cover art, along with making suggestions (and, in the case of my second collection, telling the artist exactly what I wanted). I also hired the artist for my upcoming novella. She finished reading it yesterday, and I’m hoping to see a draft of cover art in the next month or so.

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

Ken MacGregor: I’m constantly learning. Every time I read a book on writing, or read a great book, or an amazing short story, I take something away from it. Every time I get editor feedback on my own work, I learn. Every writing experience, and, indeed, every life experience, enriched one and makes one a better writer. I’m always trying to up my game, make each new thing better than the last. The other, less person thing I’ve learned is: don’t be a dick. Editors and publishers all seem to know one another. If you’re professional, and pleasant, you may not make a sale, and you may not be remembered… but, if you’re rude, you’re much less likely to make a sale, and you will be remembered. That’s not the way you want to be remembered. Luckily, I’ve learned this by watching others make this mistake. So far, I don’t think I’ve pissed anyone off. (knocks wood).

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

Ken MacGregor: I write horror, mostly, so you might think it’d be the really gruesome stuff: the eyeball-gouging, skin-peeling, genital-torture stuff. It’s not. The worst thing I ever had to write was a scene where a guy recounts the night his wife died in a car accident. Even harder was reading this scene out loud at StokerCon. I damn near cried in that room full of people. My own wife died in 2018, and I doubt very much I’ll ever fully recover from that. Writing that scene helped a little, but it was like putting new stitches in an old wound and pulling them tight.

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

Ken MacGregor: I write horror, so I always see the worst possible outcome in every scenario. However, I have a background in improv and sketch comedy too, so I also tend to see the funny in everything. I liberally season the nastiness in my work with a few well-placed laughs. This has the effect of either easing the tension or making the reader wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Possibly both. Oh, and I write sexy stuff too, because I have a background in… you know what? Never mind.

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

Ken MacGregor: I think, like covers, titles are pretty damn important. A good title catches your eye, makes you want to know more. This particular book, Burnt Fur, was a carefully chosen title. In Furry culture, there was a time when a small group of people were pushing boundaries and making a lot of other people uncomfortable. From this, a radical, near-Puritanical group emerged, calling themselves Burned Furs, who wanted to squash any sort of blatantly sexual activities among Furries (in public anyway). This group incited violence (though no actual violence is documented) and quickly developed a stigma among other Furries. The name itself causes some people in the fandom to cringe. This is why I chose a variant of it for a horror anthology about Furry culture (and anthropomorphic animals). I wanted the negative connotations that came with the name. I wanted to make people uncomfortable out of the gate. I want you, the reader, to feel a little apprehensive before page one. Because it’s horror. It’s not supposed to be nice.

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

Ken MacGregor: Well, I’ve only written one novel, and that was by accident (Kerry and I had written a short story, sold it, and we’re planning to write another. We got carried away). I love the short form, and likely always will. There’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to sit down and hammer out an entire story in one sitting. Also, I’m a total pantser, so trying to plan out a novel seems incredibly daunting to me. I plan to do it someday regardless, but I keep putting it off.

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

Ken MacGregor: My first collection, An Aberrant Mind (Sirens Call Publications, 2014) is a hodgepodge of short and flash fiction without any sort of theme (thus the name: the only thing they have in common is they all originated in my kooky brain). My second collection, Sex, Gore & Millipedes, is all the stuff I don’t want my mother to know I wrote. It’s all in the title: dirty, nasty, gross, and, well, funny! Headcase is about Johnny Headcase, an aging (but badass) bounty hunter and his friends. It’s like a buddy cop movie with sex and vampires. Son of a Monster Hunter (working title) is my first middle-grade story, and my first novella. It’s scheduled to come out sometime in 2020, and is about a kid whose dad is dying, so he has to step up and take over the family “business” a few years early.

Meghan: I am always excited to get my hands on anthologies, especially ones from publishers that I have grown to trust. Since you are the editor of this anthology, tell us about Burnt Fur, the story behind the concept (since you are the one who came up with the idea), and how you went about selecting the stories included in this anthology.

Ken MacGregor: I already talked about the title, but there’s more fun stuff about how this came about. Blood Bound Books put out an open call, on April 1, 2018, for antho ideas. Said they’d pay to have it made if they liked it. I sent them an email saying that, despite the fact that it was likely a prank, I wanted to pitch the idea of a Furry-themed antho, because I could see it drawing some great stories (it did!) and because it has a built-in fan base as Furries are widely known and many people find them fascinating. Selecting the stories was an interesting process: we had a lot of submissions that were easy to pass over, since they didn’t fit the theme, and some that did fit the theme but were not the kind of quality stories I wanted to attach my name to. After that, it came down to picking the best possible pieces. This wasn’t easy, and some had to go because we had too many of one type (there are, in fact, two pig and two werewolf stories, but they are wildly different, so I let it slide). After choosing the final selection, I was delighted to find that the writers were easy to work with and receptive to my edit suggestions. I can tell you, based on other projects, that sometimes writers are not always so pleasant to work with. I’d work with any of these folks anytime.

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

Ken MacGregor: I asked a few of the writers to redo the ending of their stories, because I could see an ending the seemed truer to the story. As a writer, I’ve often had people point this out to me, because I was too close to it, and couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Each of these writers was gracious enough to accept these suggestions from me, and, I think, made the stories stronger. Perhaps they mention this in their own interviews. Hopefully, without too much bitterness.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Ken MacGregor: I’ve been working on another novella. This one is sort of a gritty detective story with a nonbinary, asexual protagonist who keeps coming back from the dead. It’s weird and I have no idea where the hell it’s going, but I think I’ll figure it out eventually.

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

Ken MacGregor: I’m going to keep writing and editing, as long as I can, assuming I survive the pandemic. Kerry and I are writing the sequel to Headcase, which we’ll hopefully finish before the end of the year. I’m going to attend a few conventions, assuming we’re allowed to interact with other humans safely at some point, and look forward to seeing some of you at some of those (StokerCon in 2021 is also on my long-term plans).

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Ken MacGregor: My website (though I’m terrible about keeping it up to date), Facebook, & Amazon.

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?

Ken MacGregor: I’m really proud of Burnt Fur and the writers in it (the cover too, done by K. Trap Jones). It’s an incredible thing to come up with an idea, have it enthusiastically accepted by a publisher, and have the end result wildly exceed your expectations. I believe this book is going to surprise people with its diversity of subject matter and talent; I think readers are going to walk away from this with images from the book indelibly embedded into their brains. It’ll shake you up. It’ll stay with you. Which is good. That’s it’s job. Thank you.

About the Book:
Sit. Roll over. Who’s a Good Boy?

There are no good boys in in this anthology, only twisted, deviant, and burnt encounters with pets, people in costume, animals who behave like humans, and creatures who blur the line between the three. Violent pigs, killer ducks, horny bees, a naughty rabbit, and many more fill these pages with tale after tail of hair-raising horror.

Don your Fursuit, slip into your Fursona, and ride the dark wave of horror that is Burnt Fur. You may never go back to wearing your normal skin again.

The Moon in Her Eyes by Sarah Hans
Mallard’s Maze by Joseph Sale
Salivation by Theodore Deadrat
The Hamford Pigs by N. Rose
The Willingness of Prey by Paul Allih
6 Dicks by Rachel Lee Weist
The Others by C.M. Saunders
Randall Rabbit by Elliot Arthur Cross
A Concubine for the Hive by Rue K. Poe
Five Nights with Teddy by Thurston Howl
Oh Piggy, My Piggy by Matt Scott
Ware the Deep by Stephanie Park
The Molt of a Diminishing Light by Michelle F. Goddard
The Victims by James L. Steele

About the Author:
Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines, and the occasional podcast.

He has two story collections: AN ABERRANT MIND, and SEX, GORE & MILLIPEDES, and is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW). He has also written TV commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, and a zombie movie. His debut novel (co-written with Kerry Lipp) is pending publication in 2020, and they are working on the sequel. HIs first middle-grade novella comes out in 2020 too. He is the Managing Editor of Anthologies for LVP Publications, and curated an anthology (BURNT FUR) for Blood Bound Books.

When not writing, Ken drives the bookmobile for his local library. He lives with his kids, two cats, and the ashes of his wife.

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